London Jazz News

Georgia Mancio’s 2018 Hang Series Opening Night with Nikki Iles, Alina Bzhezinska and Tom Cawley
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 10 October 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The last words of the last song which Georgia Mancio sang last night bear repeating: “The spirit of the music sets me free.” They are from Sheila Jordan’s song The Crossing and they seemed to sum up the spirit of the occasion, an evening presenting three different duos and focusing on the work of female lyricists and composers.

The words stick in the mind because that is exactly where all of the work, the devising, the planning, the marketing, the artist booking… that Georgia Mancio does in advance of these shows eventually has to lead. Her particular combination of entrepreneurial and creative flair are second to none. There is no one who works harder or does these things better. But in the end there is also her delicate artistry, the simple (or rather, definitely not so simple) act of conveying and bringing emotion to words and notes. And as the evening went on, one could feel the audience becoming increasingly wrapped up in the power of the words, the stories, the emotion.

The first set was a duo with Nikki Iles. There was a piano solo in between the verses of Blossom Dearie’s Inside a Silent Tear which was a reminder of how complete Nikki Iles is as an accompanist for singers. There is a whole art of taking the solo in the middle of a song that keeps the shape of the song, that doesn’t overpower with either volume or virtuosity, that nevertheless finds unexpected corners and colours in the harmonies, and prepares to hand the melodic line back to the singer like a wrapped present. It comes from instinct and experience. And, like Bill Evans or Tommy Flanagan, Nikki Iles is extraordinarily good at it.

Every word of Pick Yourself Up was crystal clear. And the final song, Tideway, written by Nikki Iles and Norma Winstone, explored some of the deeper timbres in Mancio’s voice. The song also required an imitation of a sea breeze and the sound of a seagull. It ended a beautifully paced and shaped set of infinite delicacy from both musicians.

The second set presented a first-time collaboration between Mancio and harpist Alina Bzhezhinska. It focused on the songs of Abbey Lincoln, with an unforgettable Throw It Away, and even with a passing nod to Thelonious Monk’s 101st Birthday with Abbey Lincoln’s lyrics to Blue Monk. And how does jazz voice and harp work? That’s a dumb question. This duo left no doubt that it can and it does.

For the final set, Mancio was in a third duo with Tom Cawley, presenting songs they had co-written four years ago. And that brought another side of Georgia Mancio to the fore – these real and imagined stories of ordinary people with fascinating tales to tell were a reminder of how observant, how selfless, how inspired she is. Each of these song-tales kept the audience enthralled.

The four participants came onstage together for the final number, with Tom Cawley on melodica. A heart-warming gig which bodes well for the rest of the ‘Hang’.