Something Else (US)

When two of the most influential jazz women in the U.K. create an album, what do we get? The answer is Finding Home – a collection of songs, old and newly co-written, arranged for trio, string quartet and voice by pianist/composer Kate Williams and vocalist/lyricist Georgia Mancio.

This album is the distillation of a 10-year collaboration between Williams (Bobby Wellins, Stan Sulzmann, Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra) and Mancio (Alan Broadbent, Ian Shaw, ReVoice! Festival and Hangs) which has been peppered with appearances including Ronnie Scott’s, Cleethorpes Jazz Festival and BBC Radio Scotland’s Jazz Nights at the Quay.

Georgia imbues Kate’s multi-layered compositions and arrangements with deep clarity in the narrative and lyrics. Kate’s musicians are collectively known as Four Plus Three, and they bring their accomplished presence to this work, too. Finding Home encompasses interest in the natural world, romantic spoken word groove, reworked classics from Chile, Brazil and the Great American Songbook, loss and hope.

“Slow Dawn,” from a project in which Kate Williams composed music for a debut performance with her father John Williams, became the catalyst for Finding Home. Georgia’s lyrics transformed the track into “We Walk,” one of two showcases on the album for John Williams, a classical guitarist.

“One For the Bees” opens the door into what is a wonderful and slightly unexpected world – a world with twists, turns and wondrous pictures, painted with clarity by the descriptive vocal narrative of Georgia Mancio. The musical arrangements surge and support like a trusted network, because that is what they are. The piano interludes are beautiful and delivered precisely, but with enough personalization to engage. Meanwhile, the artfully bowed strings in the background add texture. An interesting percussion/piano segment closes out the middle section, while the afterword is a gentle dropping to earth. The ending is marvelous in its structure: “Caminando, Caminando” (or “Walking, Walking” in Spanish) is, well, a walk – but a walk with a vocalist as guide, some exquisite violin and a gorgeous lilting rhythm.

“No More Blues” boasts some impressively accurate jazz timings, counterpoints and pin-point rhythm changes. It’s matched with pretty vocals, dusky tones and great string arrangements that allow no breaks in harmony. At first, the walking bass can be heard over everything, then it’s hidden but remains steady, enforcing the pace of the rhythm. A lovely piano/bass/percussion dialogue is followed by strings in harmony, before the vocal lines drop back in to finish the story of hope and homemaking to resolve all problems. “Don’t Go to Strangers” begins with unaccompanied singing, followed by gorgeous, warm strings – and the story is told by the voice and underpinned and reflected by the emotive strings, the cello adding voluptuous undertones.

“The Last Boy on Earth” is dramatic from opening to close and tells of a lost boy, no name, lonely, wondering if he is real, set apart and always questioning. The deep sonorosity of the string response is simply lovely. The vocals deliver the sad lyrics over the musicians, who work up to a frenzy of disconnecting sounds, yet never quite apart and out of the mainstay key. It’s a clever arrangement before the sought-after dawn of a new world, told by the lyrics as the flames lick higher. Nice. “Halfway” is an interesting, slightly quirky off-beat number with a delicious piano spot dropped in over a nifty bass line at the center of the piece. It pivots around everything, like a neatly folded delicately embroidered cloth.

“We Walk” features the classical guitar of John Williams, and is the last in the trilogy of songs (including “The Last Boy on Earth” and “Halfway”) inspired by stories and events, seen through the eyes of children, that Georgia was told first hand, witnessed or learned about during time spent volunteering with refugee groups in Northern France and the U.K. over the last three years. It tells of a long walk, death and living through events which we imagine no child should ever see, really. Still, there is also a hope running through, which is endearing and savored by the music lines and the lyrics on occasion. A slow burn with traditional jazz references embedded, “We Walk” is a lovely track.

“The Key: Finding Home” begins with a wonderful violin solo, with inbuilt soaring arcs of colorful sound and emotive diminuendos and crescendos, tempered with the quietude of the tiny breaks which add emphasis. Then percussion introduces a rhythm over which they maintain a steady meter, while the voice narrates a spoken-word love song about the discovery of things which lift the spirit and inner strengths. “Heartwood” is piano-led and offers a range of rhythm changes, melodic alterations and diversions set over steady meters, meted out gently but firmly by drums and bass which counteracts perfectly and coherently. A great bass solo is included, too.

“Tell the River” is a new ballad from Georgia Mancio’s collaboration with pianist/composer Alan Broadbent, following their lauded 2017 album Songbook. It’s about self examination and finding your truth and belief, and Georgia dips into her lower register with confidence and surprising power here. “Play” is a great track to finish Finding Home, and brings everything together in a pretty, happy, gentle yet swingy piece. Together, they sew the individual musical elements together with a number that allows them each to add their touch, yet is led by the vocals. The bass solo is backed by strings, melds seamlessly into a piano solo over percussion and strings, and then follows the vocals again to the finish. Just like the lyrics, there is much wonder in this number.

Finding Home has a lot of elements which are engaging and evocative. The musicianship and arrangements are impressive, not just for the way the harmonics work but for the careful consideration given to each part as the arrangements take them and mold them into a very cohesive hole. Mancio’s voice has the qualities of the mezzo range, but some extension on both upper and lower range which means you get more than you might expect – and a little of the unexpected too.

There is an essence of maturity in this album and Georgia Mancio, though still young in jazz, has all the hallmarks and delivery of a far more seasoned performer. She tells the narrative like it is, and her voice has tonal quality which is pleasing and engaging. Music is an art, the musician the craftsmen and women, and on Finding Home there is a sense of being at a masterclass. Great music.