PREVIEW: Natalie Williams (Kaleidoscope album launch, 21st November. EFG LJF)

Natalie Williams

Vocalist NATALIE WILLIAMS will launch her new album “Kaleidoscope” at Shoreditch Town Hall as partof the EFG London Jazz Festival on Saturday November 21st. The support act will be…. the shortly-to-be-announced winner of a songwriting competition that Natalie has instigated. She explained the background to Stephen Graham:

Natalie Williams is one of the UK’s most versatile new generation jazz and soul singers, and there will be a new side to her artistry on display at the London Jazz Festival this year. Launching her latest album Kaleidoscope with her band plus an eight-piece string section and guest Jacob Collier, she says: “We wanted to do something a bit special,” as she prepared to hunker down with her fellow judges, including Bluey from Incognito and pianist Tom Cawley, to choose a support act for the gig. She had put the word out online that she was offering a slot to fresh new talent, and there’s plenty to choose from: so far there have been lots of entries sent in.

With a high profile Soul Family residency at Ronnie Scott’s that, over the years, has featured a who’s who of top jazz and soul singers from Jamie Cullum to Omar, Gwyneth Herbert to Mercury-nominated Eska, plus wide touring over the last few years in the company of the Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars house band as well as extensive gigging with Incognito, Natalie also has a string of albums under her own name running over the past decade.

Kaleidoscope was co-written with her partner bassist Robin Mullarkey and Williams indicates that with the strings input it’s something of a departure. “There’s quite a lot of lush textures to it. I love strings, they always add something to what’s going on.”

It’s a “natural progression” making the album, she explains, although the songs came together not necessarily with an album in mind, the impetus was via an EP she was getting together and suddenly there proved more than enough for an album. Songs were written in different places: one was even penned in a caravan on holiday in the Lake District with Mullarkey, guitar in hand and over a few glasses of wine, she laughs!

Aside from her new songs, which include C’est la vie, Little Did We Know and  Insight – the last of these a song about what it is that people we see around us are really, truly, thinking about – there’s a version of Jeff Buckley’s classic Grace. Williams agrees the album is quite a personal affair. She’s been through a lot lately with the passing of her father. “It’s been a shock to the system. But it’s been quite therapeutic doing this.”

Williams studied jazz for four years at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and  went on to perform functions and gigs. Before that, she had grown up in Berlin, of which she says: “I was totally into listening to dad’s jazz record collection. It was always blaring out of the speakers. At school the teacher talked about doing improvisation which some of my friends were a bit scared about but I just said: ‘I think I can do that’.” She says she left Guildhall “ a little disillusioned” and wasn’t keen to fit into the more old fashioned way of jazz being taught.

And so it was soul and R&B that repositioned her eventually spinning back towards a very ‘of the now’ powerfully soulful jazz direction she now follows. And since taking up her monthly residence at Ronnie’s from the time the club was refurbished in 2006 her profile has massively increased. A MOBO nomination along the way was a big milestone as was reaching out to the Incognito fanbase and writing material for their album Surreal although she’s now left the band.

Williams says there’s an “incredible electricity” about the London Jazz Festival at which she has previously performed on the opening Jazz Voice gala night at the Barbican. Ultimately she sees jazz and soul as something that sit alongside each other happily enough. “But you have to have knowledge of both styles and be totally immersed in each to really get by.”

Natalie Williams with Strings is at the Shoreditch Town Hall on 21 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. DETAILS
C’est la Vie is on video

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