Speak Low is Lucia Cadotsch's trio with Swedish saxophonist Otis Sandsjö and Petter Eldh on double bass. Very simply, they celebrate standards from jazz's deep and emotional history and use traditional instruments, but they deliver these songs with complete modernity. There is nothing forced or false about these new arrangements; and Lucia sings with a naturalness and quiet charisma that has won them some serious fans.
I first saw the trio in the winter of 2016 at London's Vortex club. They had just been given a great review by John Fordham of the Guardian newspaper and I could tell from the audience that included other journalists and radio presenters that there was a buzz about this band. Appearances at the Winter Jazzfest in New York and their European tours have solidified their reputation.
That buzz continues today and on May 4th Speak Low will perform at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, following in the Swiss footsteps of Schnellertollermeier who played last year and Andreas Schaerer (2015). Like Schaerer, Lucia won the ECHO Jazz Award for Best Singer, and she will expand into other projects this year. But first I asked her how Speak Low came to exist.
Tell us about Speak Low, and the arrangements of these traditional jazz standards. They come with a huge and heavy history, so it must have been a challenge.
Lucia Cadotsch It took me about ten years to find the right group to do that, and to become mature enough to sing those tunes - and also forget about Billie Holiday, for example. Of course she is part of me, like Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln, they've influenced me so strongly, but I sing these songs in my own way. It was a really important process to find the right people to create the right context for me to put myself in, a fresh context. And then I finally found Otis and Petter and without talking about anything we just played the first song, Don't Explain' by Billie Holiday and my whole body had this rush of happiness and this heat, like when you fall in love, it was, 'Oh my God,' what did you do Otis? Petter?' This is what I've been looking for, for 15 years, like this big love you were looking for, and all of a sudden it's there and you don't need to talk about, we just knew we are a band.
Who else has influenced you from jazz history? And how did you work through these jazz standards?
L.C. I always loved instrumental music too, like Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and there was this Jimmy Guiffre record on ECM that had a strong influence on me, with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, it's called 1961. I love how the composition and the improvisation is fluid, you don't know what is composed and what is improvised, it becomes one big statement. And Nina Simone is an amazing improviser, it comes out of her story she wants to tell, and she's expanding her story. What's interesting about our process is we do the arrangements together on the instruments. Sometimes we took a little quote like an improvisation by Nina Simone and took that one bar and made a bassline out of that - so it's a lot of referring to the old records, but kind of re-sampling it like in hip hop; you sample a bit and make a whole new piece out of it, there's always this reference, but it is something new too.
What has the audience reception been for Speak Low? Have you been surprised by its success?
L.C. Amazing, I get a really nice resonance from the audience, they are so charged by me as a singer, and Petter and Otis who give such a good contrast. I feel like the reception for the album and the live shows confirm something that I've always believed in. There's something really honest and progressive in the way we did it, it is a radical set up but I love this music and I always knew that this has to come across at some point, if there's this depth to what you do, people feel that it and that's what I'm getting back now from the audience. It gives me so much confidence that I'm on the right path. There's so much commercial stuff out there and I'm so happy that something like this little pearl of an album – that people hear it and take time to listen to it and they feel the depth to it. That's something really beautiful to me. It's not a loud album, like 'Bam Boom!' in our fast world, it's something that is poetic, it's all in the details and people understand that, and that makes me happy in the crazy times we live in.
I thought it was courageous to then release Speak Low Renditions because the original album has been very successful in the jazz world but these remixes are experimental and digital versions. You asked people like Evelinn Trouble, Julian Sartorius and Joy Frempong to demolish tracks and re-build them in their own style. Did it feel like a risk?
L.C. It all came really naturally.
Because of your relationship with these musicians?
L.C. Yes, I just asked a bunch of people and they all did a track and then I had 11 tracks, all amazing, so I thought I needed to give something back to these artists by making it a proper release. In the title Speak Low there is the idea that with the right people you just connect, whether they are dead or alive. It's those people out there that are like your soul mates, that you resonate deeply with, like of course, my band members. Like I said, when we came together there was this magic happening without talking about it. And when I listen to Billie Holiday, she just hits me every time, and that's very personal. But these mates' live over time, like when I listen to her, she's alive in that moment because the record captured her emotion in those moments from 60 years ago – and she's a part of me because I listen to her so much. Everything is connected, what is happening now is connected. Those musicians in 'Renditions' give me so much energy, like my other influences.
You are part of a Swiss-American-German collaboration called Yellow Bird who have just released an album called Edda Lou that weaves blues and jazz into a sort of ambient-country music, and I know UK musician Kit Downes has been a guest with Speak Low, what else are you up to this year?
L.C. I'm thinking of a new constellation with Kit Downes on Hammond organ, Lucy Railton on cello and Julian Sartorius on drums.
L.C. Yes! When I think of those people I know we can do something special. I want to bring them together for some reason, I just have a strong feeling about this. We’ll play some festivals like Palatia Jazz, Leipziger Jazztage and Silesian Jazz Festival. And I'll tour with Yellow Bird in the autumn.
This shows that you're always looking for the next part of your path, the next step you want to take. Is that important to you as an artist – to have a sense of freedom and choice? To be able to go with your feeling?
L.C. I want to explore more. I started digging into the standards again and there is more for me to find there. So interpreting songs is something I want to follow up and maybe find new contexts for that. Of course I want to continue the trio – we made such a strong statement with that record and so it's OK, what comes next? I need some time to find something and I'm on that path of searching. We’re working on new material which we’ll record later in the year, and we'll tour the USA playing Rochester Jazz Festival and Joe's Pub in New York etc, and in Europe we play gigs at Nattjazz in Bergen, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, the November Music (Netherlands) and Jazzdor.
And first, Cheltenham Jazz festival in May?
L.C. I am very much looking forward to Cheltenham. It's a double bill with ENEMY, one of my favourite bands and then Dan Nicholls is remixing our sets after. This is gonna be fun!
Lucia Cadotsch SPEAK LOW live at Schaffhauser Jazzfestival 2016 : Strange Fruit - Ain't Got no