Women Who Inspire, Women in Jazz Media (2021)

Women Who Inspire – GEORGIA MANCIO by Nick Lea
 
Vocalist and lyricist, Georgia Mancio, has come a long way and her career and achievements are quite inspirational. She is fiercely and passionately committed to what she believes in, and brings this same sense of determination to her own work. A perfectionist by nature she always strives for the best and can be incredibly hard on herself, and as we all do, harbours self-doubt about what she does and whether it lives up to the impossibly high expectations she expects of herself.
 
The journey may have at times seemed to have been long and arduous from waiting to tables at Ronnie Scott’s to headlining at the club, and is something many can only dream of. From there to becoming one of Europe’s most respected vocalists is quite a leap, but when looking back over Georgia’s career to date is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg.
 
As well as being a regular performer on the London circuit and beyond she has delighted many an audience. However, always one to look at the bigger picture she has also looked to create events and playing opportunities not just for herself but for fellow musicians. In doing so she has turned her considerable organisational skills to developing and promoting her ReVoice! Festival in conjunction with the Pizza Express Jazz Club, and over the course of five years presented 160 musicians including Gregory Porter’s first UK booking! Not content to rest on her laurels, and after a short break, she curated another event with her Hang series beginning in  2017 which developed into a wonderfully versatile showcase for some of the best musicians in the UK.
 
If this were not enough, Georgia is also poised to release her 8th album, Quiet Is The Star on March 27th, and her second with Grammy winning pianist/composer, Alan Broadbent with whom she has co-written 33 songs. Taking a step back, it is interesting to follow her progress through her discography to fully appreciate how much she has developed as an artist, from her debut album in 2003 to the assured and mature vocalist and lyricist on the new recording.
 
Her first album, Peaceful Place, was released in the autumn of 2003 to much critical acclaim. A programme of standards performed with a changing cast of musicians in a series of duos and trios. A brave move as with such a sparse instrumentation there was nowhere to hide, and every nuance and inflection is captured beautifully in a charming set that gave notice of the emergence of a major new talent. Especially enduring are the pieces that feature the alto saxophone of Allison Neale, who tone and phrasing a perfect match for Georgia.
 
Her second outing, Trapeze, released in 2007 is a much more ambitious project with Georgia playing with a full band. Recording with musicians who she had been gigging with regularly over a two year period pays big dividends, and her multi-lingual talents win out with songs sung in English, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Gareth Lockrane on flutes is a wonderful frontline partner taking some outstanding solos.
 
Her third album, Silhouette, features a quintet of voice, flute, and rhythm section with a couple of guests brought in for a couple of numbers. Ian Shaw steps in to lend a hand with vocal duties on ‘TransOceánica’ and the reprise of the title track with the two singers complimenting each other in a marvellously compatible manner. The album also introduces a new and important aspect of Georgia’s burgeoning talent with her lyric writing, adding words to Pat Metheny’s ‘Question And Answer’ to become ‘Question The Answer’; and also showcases a writing partnership with pianists Tim Lapthorn, and importantly Kate Williams with whom Georgia would establish a strong musical affinity in the years that followed. The album also commemorated her tenth anniversary as a professional musician.
 
At first glance Georgia’s next album, Come Rain Or Shine (2013), may seem to be an altogether quieter affair. Recorded live over two afternoons with no overdubs, Mancio teams up with guitarist Nigel Price and Julie Walkington on a selection of standards performed as duos or trios. In this close and intimate session Georgia again shows her strength as an interpreter of the lyric imbuing each song with a renewed sense of being, bringing her own personality to each with her superb timing and nuance.
 
This sense of intimacy and occasion again dominate Live At ReVoice! (2015) in a series of duets recorded over a three year period at the ReVoice! festivals curated by Georgia. In a beguiling set, Georgia is heard wowing the audience with her delicate interpretations of some lovely songs, and a couple of unusual choices thrown in for good measure. Sting’s ‘Fragile’ for example with Andy Cleyndert on double bass and an exquisite reading of David Bowie’s ‘When I Live My Dream’ accompanied by Ian Shaw on piano.
 
Indeed, this affinity with pianists, which will go on to play such an important in Georgia’s work as we will discover, provide some sublime moments with her interpretation of ‘I Do It For Your Love’ with Nikki Iles and Carole King’s ‘Going Back’ with Liane Carroll. All in all a quiet gem, that should not go undiscovered.
 
As good as the above albums, and all are worthy of our attention, nothing could quite prepare us for Georgia’s next album, Songbook. Co-written with Grammy-winning pianist and composer, Alan Broadbent, this was a massive step up and a real breakthrough. The culmination of so much dedication, perseverance and sheer hard work, Songbook brings everything that Georgia has worked towards over the years in a perfect marriage of lyrics, music and finding the right musical partner.
 
Songbook“, Georgia told me in an interview at the time of the album’s release, “is a collection of twelve original songs co-written with pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent, and takes as its source Alan’s melodies and my lyrics around the themes of childhood and old age, journeys and resting places.” However, it is so much more with Georgia and Alan presenting a set of original songs that not so much recall the tradition of the Great American Songbook, but respectfully request a place among them. Carrying on the work of such luminaries as Harry Warren, the Gershwins and Rodgers & Hart, the pair have written songs of intricate beauty that as well as acknowledging their musical heritage enhance and build on it, and establishing themselves in the process, as wrote in my review of the album “one of the most formidable songwriting partnerships of the 21st century”.
 
This is one of those albums where the quality just shines out on every track, and everything seems to have come together at just the right moment. A sparkling blend of instrumental and vocal mastery coupled with the perfect songs. More than this, it confirms Georgia’s stature as one of the finest lyricists of her generation, finding the perfect words to describe feelings of loss and longing that we have all felt at one time or another.
 
With the critical acclaim for the album, and successful performances in the UK, Europe and the US, Georgia had set the bar incredibly high, and one wondered how she could follow up such an achievement. There was no need to worry, as Georgia teamed up with long time friend and collaborator, Kate Williams, and with the pianist and her group Four Plus Three set about writing and recording another ambitious project called Finding Home.
 
Once again quoting Georgia in an interview about the recording she says “It’s a collection of songs, old and newly written/arranged for voice, trio, and string quartet plus guitar on two tracks. Each song is connected to the concept of ‘home’ in a different way – whether a person or a place, in a local or global context.” The theme of the album and a sense of finding home is again something that all of us can readily identify with, and brings an intimacy to the music that is very touching.
 
Perhaps most poignant are the trilogy of songs that form the centrepiece of the album, ‘The Last Boy On Earth’, ‘Halfway’, (which features a sparkling and inventive piano solo from Kate), and ‘We Walk (Slow Dawn)’ that draw on stories and events seen through the eyes of children and recounted first hand, witnessed or learned about by Georgia when working as a volunteer with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the last few years. So deeply affecting are these songs that ‘The Key’, a solo violin piece that is beautifully played by Marie Schreer, is a much needed interlude in which to take stock and refocus, and which leads to the powerful and emotive spoken narrative of the the title track.
 
Quite rightly Finding Home by Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three Meets Georgia Mancio scooped the Best Album award in the 2020 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.
 
As if the above were not enough on the 27th March, Georgia and Alan Broadbent release their new album, Quiet Is The Star. A follow up to Songbook the album features nine new songs in a beautiful set of duets that is even more intimate and continues to set the bar incredibly high. Music making of incredible stature, that once again highlights the fragility and vulnerability, and also the best in human nature. Each individual song tells its own story, beautifully told with Alan’s sensitive and lyrical playing and Georgia’s touching and sensitive lyrics, and all at a tempo that allows the tale to unfold with every note, phrase and nuance made to count. The sense of loss in ‘When You’ve Gone From Me’ is palpable in a song that tugs at the heartstrings, and the innocence of youth and the optimism that accompanies it is captured in ‘All My Life’.
 
What I find so inspiring in Georgia is not just her immense talent as a vocalist, but her sheer determination to succeed and to push herself outside of her comfort zone. When an opportunity comes along, she is not afraid to grasp it with both hands and if no opportunity presents itself then she creates one, either by curating her own events or seeking out and developing new musical horizons.
 
If Finding Home with Kate Williams, and the writing partnership and two albums with Alan Broadbent have taken Georgia to the pinnacle of her craft, I feel that that there is much to come from an artist who refuses to stand still or rest on her laurels.