Gill Manly - live at Pizza Express - The Times

Seeing The Sound of Music at the age of 4 in a cinema in Oxford introduced Gill Manly to the romance of film music. My Favourite Things duly made an appearance in this low-key set, although Manly was less interested in musicals per se than in musical interludes. Postcards from the Edge, for instance, is no all-hoofing, all-dancing spectacular, but it does contain Meryl Streep's winningly vulnerable homage to Ray Charles on You Don't Know Me.

Manly's bluesy voice tapped into the ballad's sense of longing. One of our most versatile jazz-blues singers, she made a long overdue return to recording last year with an Ella-inspired tribute disc. While With a Song in My Heart may have been an old-hat title for an album, the music itself was full of individual touches.

Her performance in Soho, with Pete Churchill on piano and Adam Glasser on harmonica, was slightly more uneven. Moon River lapsed into histrionics, and it was hard to share her enthusiasm for that syrupy Willy Wonka anthem Pure Imagination. Still, her angular approach made a perfect match for 'Round Midnight, borrowed from the moody Bertrand Tavernier film, while her version of And the World Goes Round would have given Liza Minnelli a run for her money.

After the interval Manly invited Churchill's ensemble, the London Vocal Project, to take centrestage. Made up of students from London's leading music colleges, the group recently won plaudits for its performance of Kenny Wheeler's Mirrors Suite at the Vortex.

I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free set the tone in an unusually understated display. Rooted in the gospel tradition, this is an outfit with exceptional potential - the hushed harmonising was a delight. Two of the most memorable numbers turned out to be lesser-known items by Stevie Wonder, circa Songs in the Key of Life. Wonder's simple, trilingual piece known as Ngiculela - Es una Historia - I am Singing outshone the original. Love's in Need of Love Today was genuinely affecting. More, please.

The Times
13 January 2010