There is nothing quite like setting the bar impossibly high, but this is something that both Kate Williams and Georgia Mancio did with their previous albums, Four Plus Three andSongbook respectively. The pianist’s writing and arranging for jazz trio and string quartet was phenomenal and Georgia Mancio’s work with Alan Broadbent has them destined as one of the greatest song-writing partnerships of the 21st century, so how do you follow that? The simple answer, and the most logical, was for the two women to collaborate, and the result of that collaboration is this stunning album.
Once again Kate Williams’ writing for the trio and strings is pure perfection. The musicians have immersed themselves totally in the arrangements and work together as one unique ensemble bringing the scores to life. Coupled with Georgia’s heartwarming and emotional voice, she just gets better with every new album, the vocalist is reaching a maturity in her work that is placing her at the pinnacle of her craft. She is able to convey the meaning of a song with such passion and conviction even at the slowest of tempos, that every word is imbued with maximum emotion that add a depth to the lyric that could otherwise be missed in lesser hands.
As impressive as the arrangements of some familiar standards may be, there is a superbly swinging version of Jobim’s ‘No More Blues’ with Jon Hendricks’ lyrics, it is the original compositions that make this album such a gem. There are no less than six new songs written by Mancio and Williams that demonstrate the strong affinity that the two share as these pieces dominate the set and resonate deeply with the listener.
The theme of the album and finding home is again something that all of us can readily identify with, and brings an intimacy to the music that is very touching. Perhaps most poignant are the trilogy of songs that form the centrepiece of the album, ‘The Last Boy On Earth’, ‘Halfway’, (which features a sparkling and inventive piano solo from Kate), and ‘We Walk (Slow Dawn)’ that draw on stories and events seen through the eyes of children and recounted first hand, witnessed or learned about by Georgia when working as a volunteer with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the last few years. So deeply affecting are these songs that ‘The Key’, a solo violin piece that is beautifully played by Marie Schreer, is a much needed interlude in which to take stock and refocus, and which leads to the powerful and emotive spoken narrative of the the title track over a gentle rhythm from piano, bass and drums.
The trio get Kate’s ‘Heartwood’ to themselves in a fine composition that lifts the mood, swinging gently with an absorbing and evolving melody that again gently gathers the listener, permitting an easing of the tension that has built from the previous piece. It is this delicious tension and release, and gentle playing of the emotions that make this music resonate so deeply, and if all this was not enough we are also treated to a new song from the Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent writing partnership that is hopefully yet another tantalising glimpse of a follow up to the Songbook set from a couple of years ago.
This is not an album that is jazz, classical, pop music or any other label that some may wish to try and pigeon-hole it into (Duke Ellington would certainly have no trouble in describing this music), it is simply great music that all can find a connection with, or even their story within. Once again, Kate and Georgia are setting the bar impossibly high, and one is left wondering once again how on earth they can follow this.