London Jazz News
“Secret, silent moments. Sweet, familiar voices. Colour into colour. Wonder into wonder. Beautiful traces play inside my mind.”
Those words from the coda of Finding Home’s final track, lovingly referencing those who have gone before us, also speak to me of the imaginative approach to this meticulous and poignant collaboration between Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three (the strings of The Guastalla Quartet alongside her piano trio with Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells) and vocalist Georgia Mancio. Williams’ concept of merging two different musical entities – with potential to feature guests – was realised in 2016, followed by the release of Four Plus Three’s eponymous debut album. Yet the idea of these two friends working together was kindled further back when Georgia asked to write lyrics to Kate’s composition Silhouette, which would become the title track to the singer’s 2010 release.
Songwriters’ opportunities are many, but the ability to connect words – of candidness and love, ugliness and beauty, despair and hope – with music which has been crafted with both empathy and interest requires dedication. As this album’s spirit unfolds, it’s clear that Kate Williams, Georgia Mancio and their fellow musicians grasp that essence; and their conveyance of so many moods in these twelve tracks can easily catch one emotionally off guard, with a depth transcending mere ‘song’.
The Williams/Mancio writing partnership (composer/arranger and lyricist) is at the heart of half of the album’s works, their opening One for the Bees colourfully and rhythmically portraying a view of our responsibility to the natural world. It’s a harmonious sound, never with any sense of ‘string quartet bolted-on to jazz trio’ – and Mancio’s possession of every phrase is as impressive as ever. The choice of reinterpretations is exquisite, too. Jobim’s No More Blues swings lusciously, showcasing typically dextrous vocal lines as well as the many textures available to the ‘four’ and ‘three’; and in the Arthur Kent miniature, Don’t Go To Strangers, The Guastallas alone support Mancio with delicate poise.
A trilogy of songs strike at harsh reality, born out of Georgia’s continued commitment to aiding refugees in Northern France, their lyrics inspired by her on-the-ground experiences there which include first-hand accounts from children. The weary plight conveyed in The Last Boy on Earth (“I have no name, I have no worth. I have no kin, I had no birth. No-one comes near, nowhere is home.”) is paired with Kate’s jarring, beleaguered arrangements; and animated Halfway soars (“Watch us shine, now we’re free!”) with rising string phrases and piano trio buoyancy. As heartrending as this sequence began, We Walk (Slow Down) wanders between desolation and human resolve, Williams’ churning composition illustrating Mancio’s “We bleed, we burn. We struggle just to find our place on Earth”. The Key and Finding Home seem to continue the theme through Marie Schreer’s plaintive solo violin and Mancio’s affecting, softly-accompanied monologue (“I know the crows are circling but they do not pull me down.”).
It’s a pleasure to find celebrated classical guitarist John Williams (Kate’s father) guesting on the album, most prominently in an evocative guitar, strings and percussion arrangement of Victor Jara’s Caminando, Caminando (Walking, walking) with Spanish lyric. Elsewhere, Mancio’s successful collaboration with the great Alan Broadbent is reflected in their moving, elegant Tell The River, Williams’ pianistic expression as graceful here as in her own, sunshiny Heartwood. And that closing original number, Play, might be hallmarked ‘a classic’ with such a warm, uplifting demeanour, all enriched by this most pellucid of voices.
Imagining future possibilities for ‘Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets…’ is tantalising, in a recording which again identifies Georgia Mancio as one of UK jazz’s most accomplished vocalists. Thanks to its emotional profundity and sheer joy of entertainment, Finding Home remains in my playlist after many weeks.