Jazzwise (Best of 2019 Albums)

★★★★

Williams has worked and recorded with a string quartet before and builds valuably  on that experience on this engaging new release. Her occasional collaborations with the always-enterprising singer Georgia Mancio are cemented here in an impressive coming-together of mutual interests. Mancio has contributed lyrics to a series of songs with music by Williams, three of which reflect her experiences while volunteering with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the past three years.

There is also the undoubted bonus of the presence of Williams’ father, the eminent classical guitarist John Williams on two of these tracks, the first the utterly beguiling ‘Caminando, Caminando’ by Chilean composer Victor Jara. Mancio’s vocals throughout are poised and pitch-perfect, her sound small but perfectly formed. It’s good to hear her let rip on ‘No More Blues’ with suitably foppish piano from Williams, Hayhurst and Ingamells panting in pursuit. Mancio then handles ‘Don’t Go To Strangers’ at ballad tempo, the lyrics thoughtful and heartfelt over the most spare of cello accompaniments.

The album’s meat is her trilogy of songs inspired by stories and events from her volunteering experiences as seen through the eyes of children. The melancholic strings act as a suitably searing counterpoint on ‘The Last Boy on Earth’. There’s real intensity on her vocal on ‘Halfway’ as the music builds over Ingamells’ clattery drums and the string writing surges. ‘We Walk’ with Williams senior, is more fragmentary yet equally moving.

So, an album far removed from the conventional perhaps, with its central redemptive theme, the string writing always complementary, the execution maintaining jazz interest, especially via Williams’ nimble, harmonically adroit piano, this given its head on her trio piece ‘Heartwood’. Plenty to enjoy and much to think about. Lovely music.