The Jazz Mann
‘Finding Home’ documents the fruitful collaboration between pianist and composer Kate Williams and vocalist and lyricist Georgia Mancio.
The pair have worked together for ten years and known each other for twenty, but this represents the first recording by the partnership. They first collaborated musically in 2009 when Mancio asked if she could add lyrics to Williams’ instrumental composition “Silhouette”, the resultant song becoming the title track of Mancio’s 2010 album.
Besides the co-leaders this new recording also features the talents of Williams’ septet Four Plus Three, which combines the jazz trio of Williams, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer David Ingamells with the string ensemble Guastalla Quartet featuring John Garner and Marie Schreer (violins), Francis Gallagher (viola) and Sergio Serra (cello). The recording also includes a guest appearance from Kate’s father, the celebrated classical guitarist John Williams, who appears on two of the album’s twelve tracks.
Kate Williams says of her ensemble;
“I formed Four Plus Three in 2016, having been drawn to the idea of having two bands within a band and having had a long-standing yearning to write for strings. It was also my intention to expand the line up by inviting musician friends to guest with us, including my father John for whom I wrote a short set of tunes back in 2017”.
The album adopts the underlying theme of ‘finding home’, both in a musical and political sense. “Georgia and I have been friends for nearly twenty years and have worked together in a variety of settings, but to at last fully collaborate on a project feels like musical home”, explains Williams.
Politically Mancio’s lyrics address the ongoing refugee crisis with three of the songs directly inspired by the singers’ work as a volunteer with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the course of the last three years.
Mancio has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to live appearances that I have witnessed at London Jazz Festival in 2012 and Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2013.
I have also covered recordings such as “Songbook” (2017), her duo album with the American pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent.
Mancio also co-ordinates Re-Voice!, the annual Festival of vocal jazz that takes place at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. The album “Live at ReVoice!” (2016) is an excellent collection of duo performances that finds Mancio teamed with a selection of outstanding instrumentalists. Previously Mancio had recorded “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (2013) in the company of guitarist Nigel Price and bassist Julie Walkington, the trio that she brought to Abergavenny.
Mancio has also worked with the group Quadro, actually a trio featuring pianist Frank Harrison and bassist Andy Cleyndert. She has also performed as a guest vocalist with the Scott Willcox Big Band
I have to admit to being less familiar with Williams’ previous work but did witness part of a free performance by Four Plus Three in the foyer at Cadogan Hall as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. I have to confess that I found it a little underwhelming, but that was partly down to the nature of the venue.
The material that constitutes “Finding Home” was premièred at the Pizza Express, Soho in 2017 to great critical approval and further live shows followed, including a full UK tour earlier in 2019.
My mate Steve, currently residing in Essex, saw the performance at Colchester Arts Centre and was highly impressed. The album was released in March and has been languishing in the ‘to do’ file for far too long, so my apologies to Kate and Georgia for that.
The tour was supported by Arts Council England and the venues included a school, a museum, a place of worship and various community spaces, as well as the usual round of jazz clubs and festivals. Part of the remit was to bring the music, and the issues that inspired it, to the attention of a wider audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. Some dates were partnered with refugee and other charities, including the child refugee charity Safe Passage. The album itself was recorded with the support of the Ambache Charitable Trust, an institution dedicated to “raising the profile of music by women”.
The material featured on “Finding Home” is mainly comprised of original compositions by Williams with lyrics by Mancio. The album commences with the pair’s “One For The Bees”. Lyrically the piece addresses the importance of the natural world and humankind’s place in it. Mancio’s flexible vocals are complemented by a lyrical piano solo from Williams and a tightly written arrangement that explores a wide range of dynamics and somehow manages to successfully incorporate both the colours and textures of the strings and the powerful drumming of Ingamells, who enjoys something of a feature. Williams has said of Ingamells’ drumming; “David has a broad palette and can really maintain high energy at low volumes”.
The first of two ‘outside’ pieces is “Caminando, Caminando”, written by the Chilean songwriter and activist Victor Jara. The Italian born Mancio, who can sing convincingly in several languages, delivers the Spanish lyrics with a real sense of involvement and is also heard whistling. Meanwhile the beautiful arrangement incorporates the sounds of both bowed and pizzicato strings, the acoustic guitar of guest John Williams, and the gentle patter of Ingamells’ hands on the drum kit.
Next we hear Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade”, also known as “No More Blues”. A breezy, gently swinging arrangement features Mancio singing the English lyric and also includes a thoughtful piano solo from Williams plus a feature for the strings, who soar above the crisply swinging rhythms of Hayhurst and Ingamells.
Co-written by Arthur Kent, David Mann and Redd Evans the song “Don’t Go To Strangers” was written in 1954 and was the title track of a 1960 album by jazz vocalist Etta Jones. The brief but delightful version here features Mancio’s coolly emotive vocals wrapped up in a sparse, sombre, but undeniably beautiful string quartet arrangement.
The next three original songs, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio constitute a trilogy and were inspired by Mancio’s experiences in those refugee camps.
As the singer explains;
“All three were inspired by stories and events that I was told first hand, witnessed, or heard about during time spent volunteering with refugee groups. These are all children’s stories and I would particularly like to thank my dear Barack for telling me his. To Barack and all those still searching, the future belongs to you.”
The first song in this sequence is “The Last Boy on Earth”, which features a lyric describing the loneliness, despair and feelings of worthlessness experienced by the children of the refugee camps, in addition to the physical discomforts that they have to endure. There’s a wistfulness about the music, but the arrangement contains more than a hint of wilful dissonance too as a righteous anger is expressed.
The lyrics of “Halfway” introduce an element of hope, allied to a spirited defiance. Musically the piece incorporates a sparkling piano solo from Williams and some deft drum work from Ingamells as part of a typically colourful and well integrated arrangement.
Barack’s story is told through the lyrics of “We Walk”, a song that finds Mancio adding lyrics to the existing Williams instrumental “Slow Dawn”. The words tell the tale of the night time flight from oppression and the long walk towards the West with the resultant loss of life along the way, and the certain knowledge of never seeing home again. A stirring arrangement, that includes the guitar of John Williams, complements Mancio’s emotive vocals.
“The Key” is a brief instrumental written by Williams for the Guastalla Quartet, its wistful melancholy and quiet beauty reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”.
The title track features Mancio reciting her words above an evocative Williams arrangement, a poem set to music that the co-leaders describe as “a spoken word love song, a reminder that home is both a visceral and literal state, a person and a place, local and global”. Mancio’s words make sense of apparent contradictions, her message one of reconciliation.
“Heartwood” is an attractive Williams instrumental, skilfully delivered by the core jazz trio with the composer’s classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard complemented by the warm. Woody tones of Hayhurst’s bass and Ingamells’ deft and delicately detailed drumming. Hayhurst briefly steps out of the shadows with a melodic and dexterous double bass solo.
“Tell The River” dips into the songbook of Broadbent and Mancio with the singer’s message of hope teamed with the pianist’s flowing melody. Mancio and Williams deliver the song in an intimate duo performance that showcases their very natural rapport.
The full ensemble returns for the closing track “Play”, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio. Like the opening “One For The Bees”, the song is a paean to the beauties of the natural world with Mancio’s evocative lyrical images and eloquent vocal delivery complemented by instrumental solos from Hayhurst and Williams and an arrangement that subtly blends the sounds of the jazz trio and jazz quartet.
“Finding Home” is an intelligent and evocative work that covers many stylistic bases musically, whilst also tackling social and environmental issues with subtlety and sensitivity. Everybody performs well, particularly the co-leaders, and credit is also due to Andy Cleyndert in his role as engineer and co-producer.
Also deserving of praise is the artist Alban Low, whose distinctive graphics help to give the recording a strong visual image and form part of a very classy album package.