London Jazz News

Pizza Express Jazz Club, 9 September 2015

‘New old songs’, pianist Alan Broadbent called them: old because he wrote the first aged seventeen; new because he’d written the most recent only six months ago- fifty years on. But his songs without words had been ‘in the closet’, waiting for British singer Georgia Mancio to renew them with her lyrics. This gig ended a UK tour which gave their Songbook its first outing.

Broadbent has lived in the US since a scholarship took him from his native New Zealand to Berklee College. He’s won two Grammys for arranging for singers- and from the first song you could hear those skills in play. The Things That Might Have Been had stops and delicate piano phrases to frame the voice perfectly, and pull the listener in. Mancio’s voice sounded fluent and confident, her high strong notes fading perfectly into vibrato. She ruefully introduced Forever Yours as being about ‘embracing middle age’- but she negotiated the precipitous leaps in the melody with youthful agility. Broadbent played beautiful countermelodies behind the tunes (the way he writes for big band) but never distracted from the vocals. Mancio’s lyrics could be very human and touching. The Cherry Tree (formerly Sing a Song of Dameron) was inspired by a photo essay charting the changing life of a couple until only the husband remained. There was a tint of Prelude to a Kiss in the melody and complex chords. Broadbent’s piano technique was such that he soloed at incredibly high speed- yet the effect was smooth enough to keep the ballad feel.

Someone’s Sun bounced the mood into a fast samba, Mancio enjoying the pleasure of words for their own sake (‘someone’s sun/someone’s rain) recalling the tongue-twisting lyrics of Jobim’s Waters of March. Small Wonder (written when Broadbent’s son was born- they now refer to it as ‘Tall Wonder’!) created opening suspense with a bass pedal as Mancio’s vocal swung in smoky June Christy style, gentle and intimate. Oli Hayhurst’s bass solo created a lovely alternative melody, Dave Ohm’s drums and the piano picking up each other’s rhythms. The Last Goodbye was a darker ballad (originally The Long Goodbye, written for Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, with whom Broadbent worked extensively.) The lyrics drew on Mancio’s ‘last goodbye’ to her late father’s house, a sweet disarming 6/8 melody resting simply on tense key changes. The piano solo spun into long lines that flickered by so fast you almost wondered if you’d imagined them.

One For Bud expressed Broadbent’s admiration for Bud Powell, and Mancio artfully included some of Powell’s tune titles in her lyrics. All four instruments played the tricksy bop head in unison, Mancio with Annie Ross-like effortless accuracy. Ohm’s drums unleashed their full power when trading 4s with the piano’s rich block chords, showing how sensitive his playing had been. Hide Me From the Moonlight was perhaps the most emotive piece, a piano/vocal duet that swept you along with Rachmaninov-esque drama and Bill Evans subtlety. The chords seemed to enhance the melody line, whilst simultaneously undermining it with unexpected notes- saving it from being too sweet.

Ode to the Road walked us back into swing, Mancio as playful as Sheila Jordan over the ever-moving key changes.Where the Soft Winds Blow, written when Broadbent was only 17, had characteristic acrobatic leaps in the melody. The gentle Latin groove had an elegiac feel reflecting the lyrics, which mused on the past life of a now elderly neighbour. From age to youth, Just Like a Child (originally Chris Craft) had a joyous melody, flipping from an almost Caribbean groove into taut swing (excellent drumming.) The lyrics seemed to act out the coiling tune: ‘The twists and turns of living are a puzzle to unwind’.

These were songs of real beauty and sophistication, that surely deserve to join the Standards repertoire- arranged, played and sung with great passion and skill. The quartet have recorded them for release next year so we won’t have to wait too long to hear them again.