Pianist and vocalist Kandace Springs is a practitioner of soulful jazz, a hybrid genre whose exemplars include Anita Baker, Andy Bey, Angela Bofill, Roberta Flack, Phyllis Hyman, Mica Paris, Sade, Gil Scott-Heron and Nina Simone. Most of those artists—as well as Ella Fitzgerald and Luther Vandross—influence the music on her stellar new release, “Indigo” (Blue Note), out this week. Yet the 29-year-old sounds self-assured, distinctive and strikingly contemporary, mostly free of the long shadows of her idols.
Ms. Springs’s father is the Nashville-based session singer Scat Springs, who performed with Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and many other greats. Prince saw a YouTube clip of hers in 2014, and he invited Ms. Springs to participate in the concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain.” That same year she collaborated with Ghostface Killah on two tracks from his album “36 Seasons.” Her full-length debut, “Soul Eyes,” was released in 2016.
“Indigo” is her second full-length recording and an impressive showcase for her range and interests. There’s very little gospel-inspired thunder in Ms. Springs’s lithe alto. Instead, she attracts the listener with her precision. She enunciates meticulously and creates miniature narratives within many of her songs—minutely altering the inflections on each vowel, which adds emotional depth.
The recording moves deftly from midtempo songs like the first track, “Don’t Need the Real Thing,” into slower-paced material that highlights her vocal prowess. A cover of Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s glacially paced “6 8” offers more delicate inflections to the lyrics than the original, plus exceptional atmospheric backing from flutist Elena Pinderhughes.
“Unsophisticated,” a song written by Ms. Springs, Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken, reads like an extension of the Hoagy Carmichael/Ned Washington standard “The Nearness of You.” At a gentle, loping tempo, Ms. Springs’s voice grows softer and raspier as Roy Hargrove’s trumpet percolates behind her singing. Many of the songs on the recording celebrate the bliss of romance, but “Love Sucks” offers an effective retort. Another Springs/Rogers/Sturken track, the song is a uptempo lament on the insatiable power of attraction in which the vocalist alternates between seductively welling her voice into one verse and then tersely recoiling into the next.
Two vintage covers provide the biggest highlights of the recording. Ms. Springs’s spin on the Thom Bell/Linda Creed soul classic “People Make the World Go ’Round” features nimble scat singing, and Nicholas Payton, best known as a leading trumpeter, responds with spry variations on the bass. Her take on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” follows in the rather large footsteps of Ms. Flack’s version of the Ewan MacColl torch song yet succeeds. Ms. Springs’s subtle modulations of her voice and Jesse Harris’s guitar deepen the emotion. It’s the tune that Prince asked her to play at the anniversary concert.
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.