Four years on from her debut Cotton Skies London’s Emily Saunders has taken near complete control on this wonderful follow up and artistic leap forward. While she also produced her debut, this time Saunders wrote and arranged all nine tracks, not needing to augment them with covers from the likes of Airto Moreira as she did on Cotton Skies.
Admirable though this undoubtedly is in these times when myriad mediocrities feel the need to inflict their interpretations of the “Great American Songbook” on a passive public, none of it would matter a jot if the tunes were not up to scratch. They emphatically are. First to grab the attention are the two killer up-tempo tracks in the first half of the disc. “Residing” has a sassy latin sway that should appeal to devotees of the likes of Monday Michiru, Gretchen Parlato and Nu Yorican Soul, with some great rhythmic juxtapositions in the lyric that give the vocal a real ‘snap.’ Byron Wallen’s trumpet solo is fantastic too, riding the rhythm weaving in and out of Saunders’ scat. Possibly better still is the title track “Outsiders Insiders,” built on a propulsive Wurlitzer riff from Steve Pringle that sounds as if ripped from a London swinging sixties documentary. Saunders insightful lyric of how we reinvent ourselves, adopting masks to cope with our reality, lifts this to a whole other level —Jungian psychology you can dance to being an unusual lyrical preoccupation! That it works so well is largely down to the use of rhythm, Saunders tellingly commented in a recent interview that she sees it “as fundamentally… and equally important as pitch… That’s what brings the music alive: it’s the placement.” If you need proof that she can match the theory and technique with raw talent, these tracks should more than suffice as evidence.
Elsewhere the lyrics are more personal, impressionistic, but always feel genuine and real rather than the more common creative writing exercises in pastiche. So “Descending Down” references Janov’s ‘primal scream’ theory, basically that early experience conditions our lifetime responses, amid a fantastic musical setting from Wallen’s trumpet solo to the rhythm section led by Jon Scott’s drums. The breadth and variety of the musical settings on the collection is also noteworthy from the light mid-paced latin rhythm of “Summer Days” to the near apocalypse that closes the ‘state of the world’ meditation “Reflections.” The placement of the sweet, more traditional love song “You With Me” immediately after “Reflections” is also interesting—a retreat into simple pleasures as a way of coping with the horrors of the world or just another layer of constructed reality? It is hard to say with any certainty, the lyric being open enough to support multiple interpretations, but it certainly demonstrates a remarkable vocal versatility that justifies the attention Saunders is starting to attract.
Emily Saunders has produced an excellent collection here that makes good the promise shown on her debut—combining musicality, vocal technique and heartfelt writing with a high quality band. The lyrics push this towards a more grown up audience, but the use and mastery of rhythm gives it a chance to reach beyond the narrower confines of a jazz audience if sensitively promoted. For the sake of the profile of our music, not to mention simple natural justice, let’s hope it gets the success it so richly deserves. Highly recommended.