The singing of Georgia Cécile suggests not so much an old head on young shoulders as a classic jazz voice from a young singer whose soul, sass, swing and emotional depth are informed by the stars of the Fifties and Sixties such as Nancy Wilson, Abbey Lincoln or Dorsey band era Sinatra. Her debut album is a tour de force of fresh songs delivered in timeless style.
Only the Lover Sings (independent release via Warner ADA) is the result of more than a decade’s work by Cécile and co-writer and pianist Euan Stevenson and was in the latter stages of recording as lockdown descended. Newly released, it is already propelling Cécile, whose accolades include Best Vocalist in the 2019 Scottish Jazz Awards, further into the limelight. The album shot to number three in the UK Blues and Jazz charts on the week of its release, and when we spoke, Cécile had just postponed her planned launch concert at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall from 16 October until Friday 26 November.
Why? She’d just been made an offer she couldn’t refuse by contemporary soul-jazz icon Gregory Porter to open his four Royal Albert Hall concerts, the last of which clashed with the planned Queen’s Hall gig. “I was torn between what to do,” the Glasgow-raised, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter admits. “It’s not in my nature to let people down, but with Euan and the management team we decided this simply could not be rejected and, luckily, we managed to find a Queen’s Hall date later in November.”
Further auspicious developments include her Ronnie Scott’s debut on 9 November and joining the Guy Barker Orchestra as part of the “New Voice” concert opening the London Jazz Festival on the 12th.
Of the album’s retro yet sophisticated feel, Cécile says, “We wanted it to sound classy and timeless – not pastiche in any way.” This she and arranger Stevenson, who plays piano and organ on the recording, have achieved in no uncertain manner with Cécile’s lithe vocals supported by bassist Mario Caribe, drummer Max Popp, saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Ryan Quigley and trombonist Michael Owers, plus a string quartet led by Seonaid Aitken.
Thus you have snappy brass interjections answering her sassy delivery of Always Be Right for Me, and the gutsy Blue Is Just a Colour, with its cascading horns and Wiszniewski cutting loose at the end, while the strings help establish a period vibe.
Always Be Right for Me, with its sassy holler, riffing brass and gospel-ish backing vocals (courtesy of a multi-layered Cécile) has the verve of a Stevie Wonder number while perhaps the most shamelessly retro offering is Goodbye Love, its strings and shushing cymbals ushering in visions of elegantly swinging tuxes and ball gowns.
He Knew How to Love, on the other hand, sounds like a song with a story, triggered by a remark Stevenson overhead from a woman about her father. “Euan came to me and said, ‘There’s a good idea for a song.’ I went away and thought about metre – the metre for that song is derived from Don McLean’s Starry, Starry Night.”
Stevenson is himself an award winner, not least for his acclaimed jazz-classical fusion duo with saxophonist Wiszniewski. Of their writing partnership Cécile explains: “Usually we’ll start individually with the seed of an idea and bring it to the table. Maybe I’ll have a melody in my head or a particular lyric I’ve been crafting, or Euan might have something. My strength is melody and lyric and Euan obviously has an ear for that as well but his strengths lie in terms of harmonies and arrangement.
“Having that second person is almost like a filter, so the song is refined to something more than you would achieve as an individual.”
Suddenly though, all that work is paying off: “It’s just great to have the music out there and have the world acknowledging it and enjoying it, with lots of nice feedback.”
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