There are scores of jazz singers on the scene today, many of them pretty good at what they do. Kathleen Willison is not one of these. She is an extraordinary musician who has as her instrument a beautiful voice with remarkable range and emotion. She is also an able songwriter and lyricist. This new album “Close to You” (Basho Records SRCD 8-2) demonstrates her remarkable talents in a set which holds the listener spellbound. The heady mix of luscious and imaginative playing from the UK’s most outstanding young pianist Gwilym Simcock and the soulful sax of world class tenorist Tim Whitehead combine with Kathleen to create an album which is completely fresh, full of feeling.
In 2000, she graduated with a Bmus in jazz vocal performance and is now pursuing a varied career. Kathleen has performed with Tim Whitehead at the Teignmouth Jazz Festival (2002), the London Jazz Festival (2003), the Purcell Room, the Music and the Mind Festival (2003), the CBSO Centre, the Royal Northern College of Music, the York Late Music Festival (2004), regularly at the 606 Jazz Club and at various jazz clubs across the UK. She toured the length and breadth of the country with Tim Whitehead and Colin Riley’s Homemade Orchestra on a major 22-date Arts Council of England supported tour (Spring 2004). She has also performed at the prestigious Ronnie Scott’s Club with her own band KO and a number of times at the Jazz Café as both a lead and backing vocalist.
Kathleen is featured on Latin/ jazz group AZUL’s debut album Beautiful People and on Colin Riley and Tim Whitehead’s album Inside Covers (Homemade Label). She has recorded commercially for Blazin’ Squad (Eastwest Records), jingles including USA Television (Candle Music) and for the feature films THE MUMMY RETURNS and LARA CROFT TOMBRAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (Sinfonia of London Professional Chorus). www.homemademusic.org
“It is rare to come across a singer whose musicianship matches her singing qualities. It was my birthday gig at the 606 Club and I invited Kathleen to jam with the band. She sang the standard repertoire with an assuredness and poise that belied the fact that she'd just graduated from the Royal Academy of Music. Since then we've worked together on the "Let Her Rave" commission for the Teignmouth Jazz Festival and she has become a key member of both my sextet and quintet. She's as happy being another horn weaving her way through challenging arrangements as she is breathing a reflective stillness into "You Go To My Head", my favourite track on this album (CLOSE TO YOU).
In 2003 she joined composer Colin Riley and myself in the Homemade Orchestra and amazed us all with her ability to successfully interpret a diffuse array of contemporary classical and jazz song arrangements for the recent Inside Covers album. She devoured the challenges of moving from Fraser Trainer’s reappraisal of Human League's Love Action through Lennon/McCartney's Paperback Writer to breakneck unison horn lines in Just In Time (as on this recording) with her customary deadly accuracy and commitment.
It’s all in evidence on this trio recording with the young and extraordinarily gifted Gwilym Simcock on piano .Who could ask for anything more?” Tim Whitehead
“Kathleen Willison, a promising singer who handles jazz and classical scores with equal conviction.” John.L.Walters, The Guardian, 2002
" Willison is the discovery of the album." Mike Butler, Manchester Metro
" sung with Moon-bright clarity " James Griffiths, The Guardian
“ Excellent – brings you to the edge of your seat” John Fordham, The Guardian
“the remarkable Gwilym Simcock. This 22-year-old pianist is exceptional, as both player and composer”. Dave Gelly, The Observer
“Simcock, a talented composer/arranger as well as an elegant and thoughtfully supportive improvising pianist” John Fordham, The Guardian
"the brilliant Gwilym Simcock, one of the great new discoveries of the London scene" Alyn Shipton BBC Radio 2
“Kathleen Willison was a central figure in The Homemade Orchestra’s 2004 album Inside Covers, a wonderfully affectionate off-the-wall homage to 20th Century popular song, which alone would qualify her for the keys to the kingdom. Joined here by pianist Gwilym Simcock and ex-Loose Tubes saxman Tim Whitehead (a founder member of the HMO), from the very opening track – an innovative and genuinely revealing cover of the Bacharach/ David classic – Willison’s debut album Close To You announces a singer with a keen musical intelligence and an indisputable sense of personality. Certain tracks ‘Just In Time’ perhaps most clearly of all, continue very much in the Homemade Orchestra vein, combining sly injections of humour with the enjoyment of going on a journey with the song. The self-penned, incantatory ‘ Look for the Love in your Heart’ illustrates that Willison is also a promising songsmith in her own right. Whitehead and Simcock play superbly throughout and must be a joy for any singer to work with” Peter Quinn, Jazzwise Magazine, Nov 2004
"Kathleen Willison is an amazingly gifted young singer. At times, she puts me in mind of the young Norma Winstone. As if that were not enough, on the evidence of the one-and-a-half pieces here that she is credited with composing, she can write songs that sound like songs, not jumped-up recitative. My only problem with this set concerns its format. Voice, piano and tenor saxophone make a tricky combination. It works most of the time because the saxophonist is Tim Whitehead and the pianist is the remarkable Gwilym Simcock, but there are moments when you just need to hear that missing bass. Nevertheless, one hearing of the extraordinary, high-speed unison passage on 'Just in Time' banishes all such reservations". Dave Gelly, The Observer Sunday January 23, 2005
"Multi-tasking is an aptitude often avoided by many for it involves a trained mind and a driven vision that one cannot just initiate. it’s a talent that becomes nurtured through time, as in the case of one very professional Kathleen Willison, whose angelically toned vocals offers promise to what already is a craft beyond most. This is what the jazz fandom yearn and dream for, a new generation of jazz maestros made available to us seekers of the craft, led by such talents as the above mentioned Ms. Willison.
Ms. Willison along with Basho Records has let loose that craft under the wrapper of new release “Close To You.” A very poignant yet dynamic exercise in jazz vocals. One will detect the strong range of Ms. Willison at the same time her delicate pitch, acted upon with defined execution.
Another entity which makes this a very intriguing effort is the fine presentation of Tim Whitehead on tenor sax, well known and highly developed in the art of his tool. On keyboards, Gwilym Simcock offers a generous staging of talent that streams through each arrangement. The listener will embrace the combined efforts of all on such cuts as “Watch What Happens” and “A House Is Not A Home.”
“Close To You” has all the warmth and heart of newborn romance. The vocals spill out with emotion as Ms Willison detonates her talents of range and in some cases, composing, to capture the moment the piece warrants. Young but only in years she encompasses an old world jazz appeal, that makes her offerings all that much more sought.
Capture a moment as you seize this well sculpted effort in your collection, allowing the sounds to run free as you spin this untarnished gem of jazz".Karl Stober e-jazznews