London Jazz News (UK)

That glorious body of 20th Century musical work known as The Great American Songbook has long provided artists with an almost bottomless pit of musical magic upon which to draw. Almost a century after many of them were written new interpretations are recorded, it seems, almost daily.

Songs by the likes of Arlen, Berlin, Rodgers & Hart and Porter still provide instrumentalists and vocalists alike with an instant route to great and timeless material that, alternately, must be daunting for contemporary songwriters to try to compete with. Whilst it took time, and often good fortune, for some of those pieces to garner the illustrious title of ‘standard’, the challenge for today’s songwriters to compose music that honours the tradition, displays individuality and marks itself as being of today, must be immense. 

That vocalist/lyricist Georgia Mancio and legendary pianist/composer Alan Broadbent succeed in this pursuit is evident in their latest body of work ‘Quiet Is The Star’ with the whole suite presented in that most exposed of settings; the vocal and piano duo.

The music contained within is contemporary, especially lyrically, yet tips a melodic and harmonic hat to yesteryears’ giants in a way seldom heard in this world of pop-inflected jazz and ersatz standards.

One is, at times, reminded of the beautiful duet albums André Previn recorded with both Doris Day and Dinah Shore. As this set unfolds, the interplay between voice and piano rivals that of both of those previous classic recordings. In particular; that all-too-often-forgotten technique of pausing on certain words affording the sentiment extra poignancy, letting the line hang in the air for just a moment longer. The duo are blessed with an uncanny sense of dynamic rise and fall, always at the right moment in the lyric, that can only be truly realised when performing material that is personal to the artist; that serves to tell the artists own story. 

Mancio delivers her achingly honest lyrics with a voice that is as clear as a silver spoon against a crystal glass. Broadbent supports lyric and melody with accompaniment that, at times, remind me of Previn for its level of conception and application. Never clashing, never competing, always supportive. Its apparent simplicity is, in fact, highly complex and rarely heard; a triumph of meaning over mathematics. 

Many of those iconic works from the American Songbook were originally written for shows and meant to be heard in sequence and in context. The meaning of them often changed, and was sometimes lost, when they were extracted and performed as standalone pieces. Part of Sinatra’s genius was recompiling them into song cycles that had intent and flow and, despite being from disparate composers, found a way for them to sit together and create an overall concept and story.  The same sense of cohesion applies to this sequence of ‘tone poems’ from Mancio and Broadbent; the big difference being that all the songs emanated from the same pen. How they could have written for a great lyrical interpreter, as Cahn and Van Huesen did for Sinatra, is tantalising yet, ultimately irrelevant.

Mancio and Broadbent have produced a work that could be described as ‘optimistic melancholy’ with all nine tracks positively packed with heart and soul. None stand out more than the entire sequence does. Perhaps that is as it should be? ‘Quiet Is The Star’ is, simply, a glorious album of beautifully performed new songs by a songwriting team that, in my opinion, takes its place among the best!