The Jazz Mann
A review with a difference as Ian Mann looks at the new album from Georgia Mancio & Alan Broadbent as they launch the recording with a special Zoom event hosted by Watermill Jazz in Dorking.
“Quiet Is The Star” is the second album release from the Transatlantic song writing partnership of London based vocalist and lyricist Georgia Mancio and the American pianist and composer Alan Broadbent.
It follows their 2017 début “Songbook”, a highly sophisticated album featuring twelve original songs by the duo and recorded in a quartet format with the assistance of bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer/percussionist Dave Ohm. Review here;
“Quiet Is The Star” finds Mancio and Broadbent developing their musical relationship in a pared down duo format, this time performing nine original songs with melodies by Broadbent and lyrics by Mancio. Like its predecessor it appears on Mancio’s own Roomspin Records imprint.
British born but of Italian and Uruguayan ancestry Mancio is one of the UK’s most accomplished and imaginative vocalists, who is capable of performing in a variety of musical styles. Her recordings include the albums “Peaceful Place” (2003), “Trapeze (2007)”, “Silhouette” (2010), “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (2013) and more recently “Finding Home” (2019), the latter a highly acclaimed collaboration with pianist and composer Kate Williams.
Mancio is also well known for founding the annual ReVoice! Festival of vocal jazz which began at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London 2010 and which has since expended to include performances at some of the capital’s other jazz venues. ReVoice! has been a huge success and a great credit to Mancio and this celebration of the art of jazz singing has featured leading jazz vocalists from all over the world including Carmen Lundy, Carleen Anderson, Norma Winstone, Karin Krog, Kevin Mahogany and even Gregory Porter back in the days when he still played pubs and clubs.
Mancio herself has performed at the festival herself on many occasions, often as the support to the big international names that she has attracted in London. In 2016 she released the album “Live At ReVoice!, a captivating series of duo performances featuring her singing with some of the many excellent instrumentalists who have appeared at the ReVoice! Festival.
My review of that album can be read here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/georgia-mancio-live-at-revoice/
Broadbent is perhaps best known for his lyrical pianistic contribution to the late Charlie Haden’s unashamedly nostalgic Quartet West project. He is also an acclaimed accompanist and has worked with vocalists such as Irene Kral, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Mark Murphy and Dave Frishberg. He has also collaborated with band leader Woody Herman, songwriter Johnny Mandel and even Paul McCartney.
Mancio first heard Broadbent’s playing some twenty years ago on recordings featuring Irene Kral. In 2013 she sent him a message suggesting a duo collaboration and the alliance proved to be so successful that Hayhurst and Ohm were added to the equation to create a four piece touring group.
Initially Mancio and Broadbent performed items from the Great American Songbook but in 2014 Broadbent forwarded Mancio a melody that he had originally written for the Quartet West group and invited Mancio to add a lyric to it. Broadbent’s piece became the song “The Last Goodbye” and sowed the seed for a productive song writing collaboration, the fruits of which were first heard on the “Songbook” album.
Broadbent explains the success of their collaboration thus;
“Over the years, every once in awhile, melodic inspirations would pop into my head uninvited, eventually evolving into songs without words. That is until they met Georgia Mancio. She has the same love for song that I do and knows the language they need to speak to the heart. She also found, word for word, note for note, solutions to my sometimes enigmatic titles and gave life to the sentiment they implied”.
For her part Mancio states;
“Growing up bilingual I have always been fascinated and comforted by language and as a lyricist endeavour to find reason for every rhyme. Alan’s powerful, subtle, evocative, moving melodies have nourished my sincere quest to serve the stories hovering just above the stave”.
Like its predecessor the new album benefits from the production skills of Andrew Cleyndert, himself a highly accomplished musician, plus the distinctive album artwork of Simon Manfield.
Manfield’s artwork is also featured in a new book, “The Songs Of Alan Broadbent and Georgia Mancio”, the publication of which coincides with the release date (March 27th, 2021) of the “Quiet Is The Star” album.
The press release for the book states;
“‘The Songs Of Alan Broadbent and Georgia Mancio’ is a book of all 33 of Alan and Georgia’s co-written works. Available in both digital and physical formats (wire-bound to stay open!), this 94-page volume is presented with the elegance and expanse of an art book: with clear lead sheets (in standard female keys), Simon Manfield’s evocative artwork (pen and ink illustrations and watercolour landscapes) from both albums, ‘Songbook ‘and ‘Quiet Is The Star’, photos and song by song descriptions.”
Both the book and the album are available via Georgia’s website; https://www.georgiamancio.com
The recording and the publication were jointly launched on the evening of Tuesday, March 23rd 2021 at a special Zoom event organised by the Watermill Jazz in Dorking as part of their ongoing “Digital Sessions” series. I’m grateful to Georgia Mancio for inviting me to attend (‘virtually’, obviously) this highly informative unveiling of the new album as Mancio and Broadbent, the latter joining in from his home in Orange, New Jersey guided us through the new album. Each track was played in sequence and the music was accompanied by images created by Simon Manfield to complement the music. Along the way Mancio and Broadbent talked about their creative processes as well as offering insights into the stories behind the songs themselves. Manfield was also present on the call and spoke about his role with regard to the visual aspects of the work.
This is therefore an album review with a difference, representing a look at both the recording itself and the online event that launched it.
Following an introduction by Kathryn Shackleton of Watermill Jazz Georgia began by briefly running through the history of the Mancio/Broadbent duo. She explained that they had been working together for eight years, began writing in 2014 and released their first album in 2017, aided by Hayhurst and Ohm (Mancio’s partner) as mentioned above. Regular touring included performances at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s in London and Dizzy’s in New York.
The new album was recorded in October 2019 at a single session, with most of the performances first or second takes. Broadbent explained that he enjoyed the intimacy and spontaneity of recording quickly, with Mancio emphasising the importance of being fully prepared before the session, even in the absence of prior rehearsals. The importance of Cleyndert’s role as an astute and supportive producer was also referenced, as was the importance of the sequencing of the recording in a manner that makes emotional and artistic sense. The importance of Manfield’s artwork as part of the overall package was also mentioned, this observation applying to both the recording and the book.
Following the recording date the album package itself was put together during lockdown, giving the various protagonists a creative outlet, even during a time of no gigs, exhibitions etc.
Mancio and Broadbent took it in turns to introduce the individual songs, beginning with “I Can See You Passing By”, a song whose lyrics chronicle the mixed emotions of seeing an ‘ex’ on the street. A typically intimate performance featuring Mancio’s elegant, well enunciated vocals and Broadbent’s unfailingly lyrical piano playing embraces emotions ranging from fond nostalgia, to repressed bitterness to resigned indifference.
As the title of their first album suggests both Mancio and Broadbent draw great inspiration from the tradition of ‘The Great American Songbook’. Now in his early seventies Broadbent explained that as a teenager growing up in 1960s America his obsession was not with rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles but instead with songwriters like Jimmy Van Heusen. Already an accomplished pianist Broadbent was fascinated by the rhythms and intervals that such composers used and began to immerse himself in the world of songwriting, creating his own wordless melodies. One such, written when Broadbent was still a teenager, was given words by Mancio almost half a century later and appears on the new album as “When You’re Gone From Me”, a song whose lyrics express the yearning inherent in Broadbent’s subtly blues tinged melody. It’s a song that sounds as if it has come straight from the Golden Age of ‘Great American Songbook’ songwriting.
Mancio is a skilled lyric writer, able to coin a poetic turn of phrase for any musical challenge that Broadbent throws at her. Some of her words are intensely personal, such as the lyrics of “Let Me Whisper To Your Heart”, a song inspired by a letter written by her late mother, Guya, and subsequently dedicated to her memory. For a piece so close to her heart Mancio projected her lyrics onto Manfield’s visual images of cloud and sea scapes, seeking solace in nature.
It was over to Broadbent in New Jersey to introduce the next song, “Tell The River”. As he talked he emphasised the importance of melody in the duo’s songwriting and described Mancio as his ‘spiritual partner’. He also explained that he felt that their collaborations reached beyond the remit of most ‘pop songs’ to embrace themes that were variously adult, human and artistic, songs by grown ups for grown ups, if you will. With lyrics written from the viewpoint of a mother the song is dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland, a young African-American woman who died in police custody in Texas. The song’s title comes from a suggestion by Kate Williams and a version of the piece also appears on the Mancio / Williams album “Finding Home”. Mancio is an artist with a strong social conscience, whose lyrics have also addressed issues such as the ongoing refugee crisis.
On a lighter, but still very personal note, “All My Life” was written just three weeks before the album recording. The lyrics are a dedication to Mancio’s older sister Marie-Anne, a paean to family relationships and the various roles we fulfil within them. Broadbent’s melody combines musical sophistication with a child like joyousness.
Broadbent explained that the melody for “If I Think Of You” had been written many years ago at his family’s beach retreat in Oregon, thereby loosely continuing the familial theme. Both Broadbent’s melody and Mancio’s words have a wistful, nostalgic quality that makes for delightful listening.
The album’s overall theme is “The Ties That Bind”, as the duo describe in their liner notes – “Sisterly, maternal, romantic, universal – the ties woven through these nine new songs. Some we hold just for a short time, some we carry forever”. The phrase “Blinded by indigo hue” expresses the sadness of the melancholic but beautiful “Night After Night”.
The duo’s working methods usually see Broadbent providing “the notes and the title”, with Mancio supplying an appropriate response with her words. The majority of the melodies on this recording were written specifically with Mancio in mind. Her lyrics to “If My Heart Should Love Again” were written on a flight to the US as she flew out to tour with Broadbent in the States. Comprised of just six lines her words have a haiku like succinctness, yet convey a wealth of meaning and emotion, complementing Broadbent’s melody perfectly.
The album concludes with the title track, the phrase “Quiet Is The Star” derived from a line by Shakespeare. The lyrics reflect on the transitory nature of human existence, meditating again on the “ties to bind”. The melody and the performance are possessed of a distinct hymn like quality. It’s a beautiful way to end this intimate and intelligent album.
After we had listened to all the songs and also heard from Simon Manfield Kathryn Shackleton invited questions from the online audience. Some of the duo’s answers have been incorporated into the text above, but one question from Kate Williams found Mancio explaining that she had sent a lyric she had written for the Joe Zawinul tune “Midnight Mood” to the Zawinul estate asking for permission to use it. They didn’t want to know. Instead she re-drafted the lyric, took it Broadbent and it eventually mutated into the track “Lullaby for MM”, a dedication to her late father, on the “Songbook” album.
The duo also turned to the “Songbook” album to concludes the evening, playing out with a Manfield video for the song “Just Like A Child”, which also featured the playing of Oli Hayhurst and Dave Ohm.
Thanks to Watermill Jazz for hosting an entertaining, enjoyable and informative evening.
The next two online events from Watermill Jazz will feature the Danish pianist, composer and bandleader Kathrine Windfeld and the British clarinettist Adrian Cox. Please visit http://www.watermilljazz.co.uk for further details.
Returning once more to the “Quiet Is The Star” album this intimate, intelligent and meticulously recorded album is highly recommended, with Broadbent and Mancio bringing the virtues of the ‘Great American Songbook’ into a modern, and often highly personal, context. The melodies are memorable and lyrical and the words economical, perceptive and intelligent. Both musicians serve the songs faithfully, there is no instrumental or vocal grandstanding, but the standard of the singing and playing is excellent throughout.
Like the earlier “Songbook” recording the album has been very well received, and like the “Finding Home” album with Kate Williams it’s a record that is sure to make the “Best of Year” lists when the time eventually comes.