London Jazz News

Finding Home, 606 Club, September 2018

Just over two years ago, Kate Williams found a rich seam of inspiration as a composer. She started to investigate the permutations and sound-worlds possible through two self-sufficient musical units, the jazz piano trio and the string quartet, and combining them as ‘Four plus Three’ in 2016. That led her to a first album, of which John Fordham wrote: “Of all the jazz-classical blends I have heard recently this is certainly the most convincing and enjoyable.”

And since then, the story has moved on. ‘Four plus Three’ was opened up to include a guest. Flautist Gareth Lockrane brought a whole range of instrumental colour and invention. And there was a major by-product, namely the involvement of Kate Williams’ father, classical guitarist John Williams, resulting in their first-ever official appearance on the same concert bill (BACKGROUND HERE). I’m slightly surprised that festivals haven’t been reaching out and grabbing that one, but you never can tell…

For the past year, ‘Four plus Three’ has a new direction through the collaboration with vocalist Georgia Mancio. On a practical level, the two working together means that they can share the organizational burden, but there is something a lot more important going on artistically. Lauren Bush reviewed the very first concert by this group HERE and I am sure got it right when she noted that composers are “compelled by things close to their heart”. What this iteration of ‘Four-plus-Three’ does is to take the emphasis away from just experimentation, we leave the fascinations of the laboratory way behind: the venture has now set its sights unmistakably in the direction of giving primacy to expressiveness and emotion. Compositional techniques are there to bring genuine authentic feelings to the fore, and to deepen them.

That is what happens in the three powerful songs that Williams and Mancio have written together inspired by Mancio’s work with refugee children, songs with poignancy and immediacy. And there are plenty of other examples. I particularly enjoyed the sparse arrangement of the 1954 song  Don’t Go To Strangers where the first stanza is for solo viola melodically intertwining with the voice, and then joined by a cello, with the richer harmonies available when both players are using double-stopping. And as the evening went on, Georgia Mancio’s way of not just singing beautifully but to convey emotion in different guises was proved again and again. The string arrangement of Quiet Is The Star, which Mancio wrote with Alan Broadbent, gave an emotional warmth which stays in the mind. And her spoken delivery of Finding Home , the title track of a new album to be recorded this week, was not only crystal clear, it was thoughtful and poignant too.

As the group has had more outings, the confidence, the band sound, the played-in-ness have increased. If balance was ever a problem (that can’t be simple at all), it certainly isn’t now. The project shows the individual and combined strengths, and the versatility of the Guastalla String Quartet. Bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells are masterful, delivering all the gradations of lightness or emphasis/ weight that the textures and contexts require.

‘Four plus Three’ has proved not just to be a perfect vehicle for Kate Williams as a composer. It also just keeps on delivering.