Kate Williams, piano
Oli Hayhurst, bass)
Dave Ingamells drums
John Garner, 1st violin
Julian Fish, 2nd violin
Francis Gallagher, viola
Sergio Serra, cello
Georgia Mancio, voice
On a view of this rather unusual line-up, it could have been supposed that we were in for an evening of lush, soft-focus lounge jazz: familiar standards played in a musically undemanding way. It was anything but: this was a jazz trio on top form; a fine singer with an established creative relationship with Kate Williams; and a string quartet, for which Kate herself wrote the arrangements. The music was a true collaborative venture—exploring the boundaries between improvised and composed mediums and the ways in which they can complement one another; and—as though that weren’t venturesome enough—showcasing songs composed by Kate and Georgia Mancio, all in addition to works by Jobim, Bill Evans and others. It was a remarkably rich and engaging evening of music.
This combination of musicians offers numerous possible configurations, which were carefully and cleverly exploited: the trio on its own; Georgia Mancio accompanied by various instrumental configurations; the Guastalla String Quartet deployed to give depth, subtlety and beauty to the melodies; and even a rendering of a Bill Evans tune played by the Guastalla entirely pizzicato. Combining improvisation with composed music for strings can be a tricky proposition—and jazz history is littered with experiments that turn out to be awkward rather than integrated. But that wasn’t the case—doubtless in large measure to Kate Williams’ compositional abilities, but also because she was so in command of her material (much of it her own)—so the writing for strings truly supported and embellished the songs, rather than merely providing a parallel harmonic line. Much credit to the Guastalla String Quartet, too, who were sensitive and responsive to the writing, much of which required very nuanced, precise playing. Placed correctly, it is difficult to imagine a sound better than a string quartet’s to give beauty and poignancy to a song. And it turned out that first violin John Garner was no stranger to improvisation himself.
Bassist Oli Hayhurst requires no introduction to regulars at Wakefield Jazz—and his rich, rounded sound found a wonderful new context, playing against the Quartet—a truly pleasing sound, all the sweeter for being so unusual. Dave Ingamells had to be very adaptable—swinging against the trio, but playing very sensitively to the quieter passages, particularly with the Quartet. This requires good musical judgment as well as finely honed technique.
Kate Williams herself was on great form, her very precise left hand chords supporting a flowing, wonderfully lyrical right. And all the while, she was directing the band and through much of the evening, supporting Georgia Mancio. The musical partnership between the two was clear throughout the evening—lyricist and composer presenting their work together, in addition to which was Kate’s string writing. Georgia is sweet-voiced, but not cloying; and despite the bite of some of her lyrics (and the subjects which inspired some of them), she does not strain or go in for showy effects. The talent, effort and control were obvious, but so too was the fact that they were all in the service of the music.
So although 3 + 4 is still something of a rarity, this was not all experimental, at as far as the performance was concerned. Perhaps jazz + strings has arrived at last!