Georgia Mancio/Kate Williams review – poignant songs about refugees stir strong emotions
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Jazz singer Mancio, backed by pianist Williams, performed a memorable set about homecomings, inspired by her visits to the refugee camp in Calais
The qualities of supple phrasing and quiet intensity that distinguish the London singer Georgia Mancio often warm the familiar jazz landscapes of Broadway love songs and slinky Brazilian sambas. But if this sharp-eared and patiently curious artist has her comfort zones, she evolves at her own pace nonetheless. On Friday, the second night of her four-night Hang festival, Mancio took not one dive into unfamiliar waters but two: working with the idiomatically nimble Guastalla string quartet under pianist and arranger Kate Williams’s bold direction, and mixing poignant originals on old loves and homecomings with life-and-death emotions stirred by her encounters at the Calais refugee camp last year and her fundraising for the charity Phone Credit for Refugees.
The theme of “Finding Home” didn’t entirely hide the joins in an evening of songs with such diverse inspirations, but the gig was nonetheless a triumph of integrity and classy musicality, and the audience paid it fittingly rapt respect. Mancio began with The Journey Home and The Last Goodbye, two pieces from her recent Songbook album (a partnership with elegant American pianist Alan Broadbent) revealing her deceptively effortless precision with her own ardent lyrics. Williams improvised with typically terse lyricism and languid swing, propelled by Oli Hayhurst’s bass and David Ingamells’ drums. A vibrant account of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Chega de Saudade (turned into No More Blues by Jon Hendricks’ lyrics) sprang an ingenious surprise when the string quartet chased another brisk Williams solo with an exhilarating arranged passage of flying contrapuntal bebop.
Mancio then devoted her light-touch assurance to the 1930s classic I Cover the Waterfront, over a dark, stalking Williams strings arrangement that lent an ominous undertow to the lyric’s hopeful seaward gaze and dream of reunion. Guastalla violinist John Garner uncorked a fleet, melodically audacious improvisation in the midst of it. Mancio’s The Last Boy on Earth, inspired by an Afghan 14-year-old who was terrified by the fires at the destruction of the Calais camp, was sensitively written and unnervingly delivered. Alan Broadbent’s Quiet Is the Star was a delectable snapshot caught in a silvery gleam of strings, and a portrayal of a tortuous Afghanistan mountain journey brought Mancio to a fierce emotional edge she usually keeps under wraps. It was a memorable gig, if sometimes inevitably a sombre one.