I was a huge fan of Emily Saunders’ 2011 debut Cotton Skies, not least because it showcased an artist who was single-mindedly ploughing their own creative furrow. Now, four years on, the vocalist, composer and arranger is back with Outsiders Insiders. Compositionally, vocally, rhythmically, it fuses a fascinating cocktail of influences into something , and somehow makes an even more impressive statement than the debut. As heard in the coruscating album opener, ‘Residing’, Saunders – with her immediately identifiable, mellifuous sound- has the ability to deliver the trickiest of melodic lines with the agility of an instrumentalist. Channelling her love of trip-hop, ‘You caught me’ highlights one of the singer’s stylistic footprints, a dramatic glissando, which she uses to telling effect in several tracks. With its catchy keys vamp and wordless vocal hook, just one of several earworms that were replaying in my head long after the CD had finished, the title track sounds like it would be right at home on a film soundtrack. Elsewhere, the dreamy ‘Reflections’ and ‘You with me’ display her fine balladeering side. Killing band, too.”
Bruce Lindsay 01/04/2015 Jazz Journal
“Singer and songwriter Emily Saunders gazes from the cover of Outsiders Insiders, her second album, like Shakespeare’s Puck. As Residing opens it’s clear that Saunders’ impishness goes beyond the visual image, extending into self-penned songs replete with catchy hooks, danceable rhythms and romantic, often enigmatic, lyrics. Her voice has its idiosyncrasies, particularly the way in which she slides between notes: she’s no Ella or Billie wannabee, she’s crafting an individual and recognisable sound.
One of the most distinctive elements of Saunders’ writing is her skill at establishing musical atmospheres that heighten the impact of her lyrics. Saunders has surrounded herself with an excellent band, keyboardist Bruno Heinen and trumpeter Byron Wallen playing particularly critical roles in crafting these distinctive atmospheres.
The dreamlike You Caught Me is musically playful, lyrically affecting. The title track centres on Dave Whitford’s strong bass groove, a contrast with Saunders’ deliberately automatonlike vocal. Descending Down is slinky, sexy and mysterious – it’s not quite Grace Jones with Sly and Robbie, but it’s heading in that direction.
Even in the dark depths of winter the warmth of Summer Days bursts from the speakers. Sticking the song on repeat alongside Residing should help to reduce heating bills on those frosty February nights: come July, they’ll be an ideal accompaniment to sunshine and good wine.”
“Emily Saunders has crafted a reputation for cool, sophisticated songs blending Brazilian themes and rhythms with a clean, precise, almost Scandinavian delivery. On this, her second album, she includes electronic sounds and distorted vocals, moulding the typical Latin aesthetic to her own musical identity with great confidence. Saunders composes music and lyrics, and also produces, so has been able to build a soundworld both unified and unique. Her lyrics are much more substantial than is frequently the case in these genres: a slickly rhymed combination of dense, highly coloured imagery and intriguing biographical detail, they veer between the gnomically terse and almost squirmingly (psychologically) explicit. “Reflections”, for example, packs an extraordinary and suggestive quantity of detail into three short verses, the last of which, beginning “People say why high fly/ Pain impacted hatred high”, conjures all manner of psychological allusions without giving away any specific life detail. The lyrics to “Descending Down”, by contrast, have the bitter pang of autobiography, such as: “For life has the cruelest joke to turn you on your head/ To replicate one’s childhood ‘til you wish that you were dead”. Saunders’s lyrics work as (and begin as) poetry in their own right, which is not something one can say of much songwriting of any genre.
Musically, Saunders is restlessly inventive but never self-indulgent. The swooping, distorted melody of “You Caught Me” captures the disturbing, all-embracing mind warp of infatuation (love – you hope not), while title track “Outsiders Insiders”, beginning and ending with brief, exquisite snatches of Byron Wallen’s free-jazz trumpet playing, is for much of the central section a spare, contemporary samba tune of unusually philosophical bent. It symbolises the range, depth and ambition of this highly impressive release.”
“Flora Purim-like on ‘Residing’ and the joyous ‘Summer Days’ Saunders has written all of the music as well as arranging and producing Outsiders Insiders.
The infectious title track is perhaps atypical of the main thrust of the album exuding more of a Elizabeth Shepherd-or even Patricia-Barber-like atmosphere, the narrative drive and modern keyboards sound part of Saunders’ preference to roam beyond a fixed sense of genre, Steve Pringle on keys drafted in instead of the Stockhausen-loving Bruno Heinen elsewhere on the album.
The singer has completely assimilated vocalese and the atmospheres of progressive Brazilian jazz-influenced musics notably samba into her own method certainly not letting the style get in the way of substance no matter how tricky and involved the improvising turns out.
Mulatu Astatke Step Ahead band trumpeter Byron Wallen, whose squealingly-lonesome opening gambit lights up the beginning of the title track, is the only horn player apart from trombonist Trevor Mires, both more than effectively used in the writing even when the ensemble sound spreads out, the core band completed by Christine Tobin bassist Dave Whitford, Kairos 4tet drummer Jon Scott and percussionist Fabio De Oliveria, with Asaf Sirkis on percussion and bassist Paul Michael stepping in notably on the reggae-like ‘Descending Down.’
The product of a restless imagination Saunders is never risk averse and four years on from Cotton Skies goes from strength to strength as her individuality and artistry continue to make their presence felt.”
“It’s a delight occasionally to hear something that sounds genuinely new. Better still when it’s cool, sophisticated, full of space and light, and beautifully performed. Singer Emily Saunders’ second album falls into that rare category. Her music is hip and up-to-date, and even though you can hear her influences, it sounds highly distinctive. She also wrote, arranged and produced the album, which comes out in March, four years after her well-received debut Cotton Skies.
Not surprisingly, given its earworm quality, the title track has been getting airplay lately. Why wouldn’t it be a hit single, with that wonderful syncopated The Beat Goes On riff? There’s an android vocal, followed by a sweet harmony answering vocal; however the bridge is probably too challenging for the charts, featuring Byron Wallen’s squeaky trumpet over a broken rhythm and then a super-cool electric piano solo from Steve Pringle.
If you’re looking for vocal comparisons, you will hear echoes of Gretchen Parlato and Lauren Desberg here, and certainly Bebel Gilberto in Saunders’s glissando style – so apparently effortless as to be Teflon-coated. Yet what she’s singing is often extremely difficult, soaring through rapid chord changes on Brazilian-influenced tunes like Residing. There’s an alien, dreamlike quality to many tracks: You Caught Me, Moon and the tautological Descending Down, with their intriguingly elliptical lyrics and slow, vibrato Rhodes backing from Bruno Heinen.
The musicians are locked into Saunders’ musical vision. She has used two different pianists, two bassists and two percussionists, but such is her control over the arrangements that you wouldn’t know it. Vocally, she does so much more than just sing the songs over a backing. Take Metronomic, which begins with a wordless, snaky improvisation on some Eastern scale before settling into a dark meditation about ‘a man who sought to control’, and ending on a brief cacophony of electronic noise. The album closes with You With Me, a gorgeous, poignant voice-and-piano ballad that’s over much too quickly.
Everything on Outsiders Insiders is drenched in melody, and it’s this, as well as the intimate and deeply-felt quality to the recordings that lifts them above the everyday.”
“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.”
“When the intimacy of a jazz night crosses your path you are not allowed to decline the offer: It would simply be an offence to Music. If the jazz night means a live performance by London-based singer, writer and producer Emily Saunders, supported by her immensely talented band, all you can do is sit and listen… and wish the show would never come to an end.
Saunders presented her latest work, “Outsiders Insiders“, with a very intimate show immersed in the minimal elegance of St. James studio, a sort of modern, tinier, Ronnie Scott’s. Trumpeter Byron Wallen, pianist Steve Pringle, bassist Paul Michael and drummer George Hart joined Emily on stage to deliver a most enjoyable session of tracks from Saunders’ new album plus some tunes from her previous work.
The audience was soon enough transported into an atmosphere of swaying grooves and romantic melodic songs wrapped around Brazilian rhythms with Saunders displaying her ability as a rhythmically-inventive jazz vocalist at the highest order. Few album launches can afford such musicianship and high levels of classy entertainment.”
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