The Jazz Mann (UK)
The title of this album is simultaneously misleading and 100 % accurate.
A cursory glance at the cover of this new album from vocalist and lyricist Georgia Mancio and pianist and composer Alan Broadbent might suggest a cursory trawl and crawl through the “Great American Songbook”. Instead this sophisticated package contains a collection of twelve well crafted original songs with music by Broadbent and words by Mancio, with the co-leaders sympathetically supported by bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer/percussionist Dave Ohm. Although Broadbent and Mancio have been inspired by the great songwriters of the past such as George Gershwin, Harry Warren and Rodgers & Hart this music is very much their own “Songbook”.
British born but of Italian and Uruguayan ancestry Mancio is one of the UK’s most accomplished and imaginative vocalists who is capable of performing in a variety of musical styles. Her recordings include the albums “Peaceful Place” (2003), “Trapeze (2007)”, “Silhouette” (2010) and “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (2013).
However Mancio is perhaps best known for founding the annual ReVoice! Festival of vocal jazz which began at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London 2010 and which has now expended to include performances at some of the capital’s other jazz venues. ReVoice! has been a huge success and a great credit to Mancio and this celebration of the art of jazz singing has featured leading jazz vocalists from all over the world including Carmen Lundy, Carleen Anderson, Norma Winstone, Karin Krog , Kevin Mahogany and even Gregory Porter back in the days when he still played pubs and clubs.
Mancio herself has performed at the festival herself on many occasions, often as the support to the big international names that she has attracted in London. In 2016 she released the album “Live At ReVoice!, a captivating series of duo performances featuring her singing with some of the many excellent instrumentalists who have appeared at the ReVoice! Festival.
The American Broadbent, who recently turned 70, is perhaps best known for his lyrical pianistic contribution to the late Charlie Haden’s unashamedly nostalgic Quartet West project. He is also an acclaimed accompanist and has worked with vocalists such as Irene Kral, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Mark Murphy and Dave Frishberg. He has also collaborated with band leader Woody Herman, songwriter Johnny Mandel and even Paul McCartney.
In the album liner notes Mancio explains that she first heard Broadbent’s playing some twenty years ago on recordings featuring Irene Kral. In 2013 she sent him a message suggesting a duo collaboration and the alliance proved to be so successful that Hayhurst and Ohm were added to the equation to create a four piece touring group.
Initially Mancio and Broadbent performed items from the Great American Songbook but in 2014 Broadbent forwarded Mancio a melody that he had originally written for the Quartet West group and invited Mancio to add a lyric to it. Broadbent’s piece became the song “The Last Goodbye” and sowed the seed for a productive song writing collaboration, the fruits of which can be heard on this album.
Broadbent explains the success of their collaboration thus;
Over the years, every once in awhile , melodic inspirations would pop into my head uninvited, eventually evolving into songs without words. That is until they met Georgia Mancio. She has the same love for song that I do and knows the language they need to speak to the heart. She also found, word for word, note for note, solutions to my sometimes enigmatic titles and gave life to the sentiment they implied”.
For her part Mancio states; “Growing up bilingual I have always been fascinated and comforted by language and as a lyricist endeavour to find reason for every rhyme. Alan’s powerful, subtle, evocative, moving melodies have nourished my sincere quest to serve the stories hovering just above the stave”.
Released on Mancio’s own Roomspin imprint the elegant album packaging includes full transcripts of Mancio’s lyrics, with these further enhanced by the bespoke illustrations of artist Simon Manfield, whose work perfectly encapsulates the meanings of the individual songs and the album as a whole.
The album commences with “The Journey Home”, a quartet performance featuring a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Broadbent with sympatico support from double bass and brushed drums. There’s also a succinct, melodic bass cameo from Hayhurst. The song has the feel of a modern standard and Mancio’s well enunciated vocals are sometimes reminiscent of another noted British jazz vocalist and lyricist, the great Norma Winstone. Lyrically the song deals with adult nostalgia and childhood memory, themes that recur throughout the album.
As previously alluded to “The Last Goodbye” (originally titled “The Long Goodbye”) was the first song written for the album. Broadbent’s melody was received by Mancio at the time she was clearing out her late father’s house. The lyrics deal with love and loss and the ongoing theme of nostalgia but there’s a poetic simplicity and beauty about them that prevents the performance becoming maudlin or slipping into over-sentimentality. Mancio expresses her grief in everyday language and in a way that anybody who has gone through the same experience can readily sympathise with and relate to.
“Someone’s Sun” is lighter musically with its jaunty melodies and Brazilian/Latin tinged grooves. Lyrically it’s less convincing and a little laboured with its “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” analogies.
The lovely “Cherry Tree” is rather more successful, another lyrical evocation of a lost past that Mancio does so well. A life story is condensed into just fifteen lines with the simplicity and beauty of a haiku. Mancio’s wistful vocal performance is enhanced by a musical arrangement incorporating limpid piano and delicately brushed drums. “Small Wonder” is even more economic lyrically with its homespun homilies evoked within just eight lines.
Introduced by Ohm’s brushed drums “One for Bud” is a sassy piece of vocalese that expresses Mancio’s love of the music of the great Bud Powell. Broadbent’s bop influenced theme also gives the instrumentalists a chance to stretch out with features for double bass and brushed drums.
The “Live at ReVoice!” album demonstrated Mancio’s penchant for duo performances and her partnership with Broadbent began as a duo. Ohm and Hayhurst sit out the wistful “Hide Me From The Moonlight”, yet another song with the feel of a vintage standard about it. An emotive ballad the piece emphasises Broadbent’s lightness of touch at the keyboard and the purity and technical expertise of Mancio’s singing.
The rhythm team are back on board for “Forever”, yet another song with a standards feel and a lyric speculating on the ageing process and the passing of time.
The co-leaders’ love of the Great American Songbook is perhaps best illustrated by the song “Close to the Moon” which sounds as if it could have written in Tin Pan Alley’s golden age. Reviewing this album for London Jazz News my namesake Jane Mann suggested that Ella Fitzgerald would have sung this song if it had been available to her. In any event Mancio captures something of the spirit of Ella with her warm and vibrant vocal performance.
The oldest melody on the album is that of “Where the Soft Winds Blow” which was composed by Broadbent some fifty years ago. Mancio’s lyrics and vocals bring a warmly nostalgic glow to the music, the lyrics again addressing the circle of life and the passage of time.
“Just Like A Child” bustles along at a fast clip with lively Latin-tinged piano and briskly brushed drums. Mancio deftly weaves her lyrics into the musical fabric, her words musing on the complexity of modern life and urging the listener to “open up your mind and go back, think just like a child”.
The album concludes with “Lullaby for MM” one of Broadbent’s most recent melodies and presumably a tune written specifically for this project. Mancio’s lyrics are an evocative homage to her late father, the first two verses sung in duo format before Ohm and Hayhurst join in to add their characteristically sympathetic and sensitive support.
Although a little outside my usual listening zone there’s no doubting that “Songbook” is a highly sophisticated and classy piece of work. The combination of Broadbent’s glorious melodies and Mancio’s intelligent and evocative lyrics works particularly well and the musical performances from all four protagonists are excellent throughout. There are few individual solos but each musician serves the songs faithfully in this perfectly balanced quartet. Producer/engineer Andrew Cleyndert brings out the warmth of the material and the performances – in his role as double bassist he was also one of Mancio’s duo partners on the “Live at ReVoice!” album.