London Jazz News

The opening night of Georgia Mancio’s three-evening Hang series took on a very bold concept indeed – and made it work. The theme of the three very contrasted duo sets was Where We Once Belonged. All three pairs (Kim Macari and Rick SimpsonShirley Smart and Robert Mitchell, and Mancio herself with Tom Cawley) performed sets which looked in different ways at questions around “heritage, identity and what the future holds…”

Mancio has recently gone through a bereavement, and her authentic sense of wanting to respond to the circumstances, to interpret the experiences and the emotions surrounding it, and also the sense of being from another place (Europe), were the dominant threads. There had also been a subsidiary and rather more down-to-earth drama in the run-up to this gig, and Mancio herself had made no secret of it: advance sales had been very slow until a week before the show, but because of her efforts in the past few days the gig was sold out.

Trumpeter/reciter Kim Macari and pianist Rick Simpson gave the first of the three sets, a short and atmospheric programme which transported the listener instantly into the Scottish past. Macari’s texts were in a powerful and highly poetic language, with echoes of coastal life close to nature that recalled writers like Kathleen Jamie, and one strong portrayal of the mother-daughter dynamic that brought to mind Sharman Macdonald’s The Winter Guest.

These were strong stories vividly told, and the music, with Macari’s own trumpet playing and Rick Simpson’s subtle piano, helped to underpin and reinforce the pacing and the emotional context. It was the kind of performance that needed real concentration and real quiet to achieve its effect… so one day I’d like to hear it again properly, without the accompaniment of people on the next table haggling with a waiter over every item on their food and drink bill.

The central set contained the most powerful moment of the evening, Robert Mitchell’s recitation A Son of Windrush Reflects, was very well judged and I’m still thinking about it. We want and we need artists to reflect on what goes on around us.

As Proust wrote: “Whatever idea life has left in us, its material shape, a trace of of the impression it has left on us, is still the necessary guarantee of its truthfulness.” Mitchell brought home that truth irresistibly with a combination of pride in his Bajun heritage and in what his mother had achieved in the NHS, of her determination and her high principles, tempered by a reasoned, justifiable and well-expressed anger about the rising tide of racism and the normalizing of it in this “isle in denial,” and at the scandalous deportations of Windrush generation and their descendents. Shirley Smart accompanied it sensitively and supportively. It was unforgettable. As ever, Shirley Smart’s stylistic range as cellist came through well, from the lyrical in Mitchell’s piece Inner Sanctum to expressing her own sense of displacement and her knowledge of the music of the Near and Middle East in her own compositions.

Georgia Mancio and Tom Cawley have a songwriting project based around the real and imagined pasts of members of Georgia Mancio’s family and friends, and even strangers. Her quietly questioning way of looking at the world dominated. Mancio never seems to lose the sense of wonder, or of authenticity and sincerity in what she does, and she sings the disarmingly simple lines with true beauty. Tom Cawley’s harmonic progressions and shifts always give the limpid and hooky melodic lines a real sense of adventure, opening up unexpected vistas. There is now a good collection of these songs, and they certainly haven’t revealed all their charms and secrets at the first listen. John Fordham in his feature for LJN referred to her “understated skilfulness.” Indeed.