Sandy Brown Jazz (UK)

I wrote about the background to this album last month, but it is worth reminding ourselves of how it came about. Vocalist Georgia Mancio said: ‘About 20 years ago, when I worked at Ronnie’s, Simon Woolf recommended I listen to Irene Kral as I was just starting singing. That led me to the sublime duo albums she made with Alan Broadbent. In 2012, I sent Alan an email asking if he ever wanted to do any UK gigs with a singer totally unknown to him! That led to some duo gigs the following year and later the start of our songwriting partnership.’ The result, Songbook, is released on 23rd April – Alan Broadbent’s 70th birthday. They launch the album on 2nd April at Gateshead International Jazz Festival and on 3rd April they are headlining at Ronnie Scott’s.

Alan Broadbent is recognised as a leading jazz pianist, composer and arranger with credits as impressively far-ranging as Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Woody Herman, Johnny Mandel, Paul McCartney, Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Bud Shank, and iconically Irene Kral and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. Georgia Mancio has established herself as a popular and prominent vocalist who has worked with Bobby McFerrin, Ian Shaw, Sheila Jordan, Gwilym Simcock and Liane Carroll and stages her own international annual voice festival – ReVoice!

Georgia and Alan discovered that they have a mutual appreciation of the Great American Songbook, clearly reflected in this recording. Alan invited Georgia to write a lyric for ‘The Long Goodbye’ – an evocative piece originally conceived for Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. It coincided with Georgia’s final visit to her father’s house and became ‘The Last Goodbye’ on the Songbook album – a subtly emotional story of loss and coming of age. One song organically led to another and in a prolific nine month period they reimagined some of Alan’s earlier recorded work.

You would think that the first two titles on the album, ‘The Journey Home’ and ‘The Last Goodbye’, would come at the end. In fact, they are about memories, a theme throughout the album, and they introduce us to the light touch of both vocalist and pianist and Oli Hayhurst’s gentle double bass. ‘The Last Goodbye’ says ‘I passed by the house just today. It seemed to have something to say. The gates were all worn and the pathway was torn and yet I still hoped you’d be there.The lights that you hung from the tree, the flowers you planted for me, the shoes you once wore they were right by the door and so I still hoped you’d be there …’. Welcome to Georgia Mancio’s touching lyrics.

‘Someone’s Sun’ swings gently in a tune that could work in a stage show and Alan Broadbent’s piano ripples through the middle section. ‘Cherry Tree’ is another song about memories. It would be easy to forget that these lyrical tunes are originally Alan Broadbent instrumental compositions. ‘One For Bud’, opening with Dave Ohm’s drums and a vocalese approach from Georgia, is clearly about pianist Bud Powell and Georgia sings ‘I went to work – 9 to 5. I concentrated on the boss and his jive. His patter and zeal held no inch of appeal compared to Bud.’ and the piano solo swings into a double bass outing and then to a piano – drums ‘conversation’.

Georgia brings sad lyrics to the slow ‘Hide Me From The Moonlight’, one of those tunes that asks for words about lost love, and ‘Forever’ waltzes its way through a song about taking notice of now: ‘Children, they think they’ll stay children forever and never get bigger and better. What do they know? Tell them just to go slow. Playtime lasts for so long then they too will grow.’ ‘Close To The Moon’ fits well into an album named Songbook, one of those laid back, softly swinging tunes that belongs to the crooners and ‘Where The Soft Winds Blow’, originally written by Alan when he was seventeen, is nicely paced through a song about youth looking forward and an old man wondering where time has gone – ‘So we ebb and flow, where the soft winds blow.’

‘Just Like A Child’ at track 11 trips lightly, with Latin-like touches, and is perhaps one of my favourite tracks on the album for the way the lyrics and piano fit and the way Dave Ohm’s drums carry the tune along. Here again we have a ‘looking back’, ‘We’re all frantically coping, intervening between death and birth, Open up your mind and go back, think just like a child!’ The album appropriately closes quietly and slowly with a beautiful lullaby of memories, presumably for Georgia’s father, ‘Lullaby For MM’. ‘These are the memories I’ll always hold as I grow old, dear father.’

Georgia Mancio has written some superb life-drawn lyrics that she sings with clarity and feeling. They bring pictures to Alan Broadbent’s music in such a way that the album could equally be named ‘Picturebook’, and most of all we can hear the empathy between pianist and vocalist. Oli Hayhurst and Dave Ohm’s contribution is ‘just right’, integrating with the song sensitivities and sometimes adding their individual ingredients to season the dish.