Finding Home / Ian Shaw Duo, Pizza Express Jazz Club, 7 October 2017
It is three years since Georgia Mancio’s iconic Revoice! Festival bit the dust. It expired not because of a lack of support from the powers that be. Far from it. It takes a massive of amount of time to direct and curate a festival of this kind (in the five years of its existence Revoice! hosted over 160 musicians from all over the globe in a series of exciting collaborations: Carmen Lundy, Gregory Porter, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Liane Carroll, Christine Tobin, Claire Martin and Ian Shaw to mention just a few). The decision to pull the plug was Mancio’s alone. As she said: “I realised that due to my commitment to other writing and performing projects I no longer had enough time to do justice to running ReVoice! So for now there are no plans for future editions but I’m hoping that one day we will return”.
And so the day has finally come. Three years after the demise of ReVoice! the phoenix has risen from the ashes and has been transformed into another collaborative beast – a “hang”. “Hang” has many different meanings but to musicians it is used to describe the after show where people (especially musicians but sometimes punters join in the festivities too) gather to imbibe, tell stories and where all is fun. In my time I have indulged in countless “hangs”, some lasting for hours on end. This is the time to unwind, to release the tension of perhaps a difficult gig, or to lighten the load of life’s burden. Tonight’s late show most definitely had the qualities of your typical “hang”: light, informal, fun, but with serious messages bubbling just beneath the surface. Life is about the balance between light and dark, humour and tragedy. We need a little bit of fun to avoid going completely stark raving mad. We scream at our morally bankrupt politicians, the self-interest of our leaders, the lack of compassion that inhabits the souls of so many. But we laud the efforts of a Mancio or a Shaw to try, best they can, to alleviate the suffering. Their charitable work is very humbling and an inspiration for us all. It makes us think: “We should be more caring, do more to help the disenfranchised of the world”. It’s great to be a superb musician like Georgia and Ian but it’s even greater to be a selfless, compassionate human-being, a philanthropist, an altruist. When great musicians and humanists conjoin then we have the perfect world.
The Early Show was entitled Finding Home and featured the immaculate Mancio in collaboration with the brilliant pianist, composer and arranger, Kate Williams. Four Plus Three refers to the heavenly marriage of the Guastalla String Quartet with her regular trio (her 2016 album Four Plus Three is an absolute delight). The two women presented an emotionally-charged set of originals with two standards thrown in by way of contrast, Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade” (English title “No More Blues”) which featured a stonking burning solo from Williams and a thrilling unison string bebop section, and the Johnny Green/Edward Heyman 1930s classic “I Cover the Waterfront” given a punchy 12/8 bluesy feel. Much of the material was specially composed for the event, Mancio mostly providing the lyrics, Williams the music, though as with many collaborations, there was a fair bit of cross-fertlisation too. The set also contained two pieces – “The Journey Home” and “The Last Goodbye” – from Mancio’s Songbook album, a wondrous collaboration with American jazz pianist Alan Broadbent.
You could tell from the off that Williams has totally absorbed the music of Bill Evans (her Four Plus Three album features two Evans compositions alongside her own tunes and those of Kenny Kirkland, Cole Porter and Jobim). Her touch is exquisite and her ideas flow organically just like the American master. She is a wonderful story-teller, and her arrangements are sublime. Mancio could have asked for no better collaborator to realise her own vision. Her vision is for a better, kinder world, a vision very different from the sombre one often alluded to in this set. We are told of the horrors of the Calais “jungle” witnessed by Mancio during her humanitarian work there. “The Last Boy on Earth” was a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And when it’s children who suffer we cry even more. The piece was inspired by a 14- year old Afghan boy terrified by the fires that burned after the Calais camp was raised to the ground. The harmonies were stark and jarring, the string effects tragic and tortured. There was a more positive note in “Halfway” in honour of those brave refugees who managed to escape from their desperate plight, the music seething with energy as it danced between a three and a four metre. Yes there might be joy ahead. The children are half way there. We pray that one day they will be completely there.
The mood lightened in the late set with Shaw and Mancio treating the late revellers to a wide-ranging mix of material. Old chestnuts such as “A Beautiful Friendship”, “I Thought About You” (this featured a charming whistling solo from Mancio conjuring up images of Toots Thielemans), “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “But Beautiful”, Bob Dorough’s “Devil May Care”, “If I Were a Bell” (here Shaw encouraged the audience to participate, us punters rendering “ding dong, ding dong, ding rather pathetically I thought) were interlaced with superior singer-songwriter material. Shaw’s dramatic reading of Bowie’s “Life on Mars” included a soft and tender chorus from Mancio in Seu Jorge’s Portugeuse adaption; Shaw truly knows how to get beneath a song’s skin. He so understands the theatre of the song, the song’s driving wheel. He is a master of political commentary and hard-hitting satire, so well demonstrated in Joni Mitchell’s “Borderline”, “I see a borderline, like a barbed wire fence, strung tight, strung tense, prickling with pretense, a borderline”. Witnessing the “jungle” like Mancio, he knows all about fences, about the malevolence of man, about people prickling with pretense. A picture of little Kim Jong Un came flashing into view as he delivered the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “Rocket Man”. Yes we are living in very strange and dangerous times. We were made well aware of life’s transience and a world full of broken dreams in Mancio’s groovy rendition of Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away”. I kept thinking: “the world is on a kind of knife edge; if we don’t all slip away we might be all blown to smithereens”…but there’s always the hope that we’ll end up on the sunny side of the street, but not all of us unfortunately.
Throughout the set Shaw drove the songs along with his powerful piano playing, his voice seething with passion, Mancio’s more quietly contemplative but equally telling.It was a most memorable gig, at once thought-provoking and entertaining.