Azimuth: Azimuth ’85 (ECM 1298)

Azimuth ’85

John Taylor piano, organ
Norma Winstone vocal
Kenny Wheeler trumpet, fluegelhorn
Recorded March 1985 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The equivocal trio known as Azimuth will forever be one of ECM’s most profound. The combination of John Taylor’s pianism and Norma Winstone’s vocals alongside Kenny Wheeler’s soulful trumpeting was just what the 1980s needed to find solace in sound. Taylor’s heart is sure to still yours in “Adios Iony,” from which Wheeler and Winstone draw parallel threads before the slow persuasion of words begins to make itself heard:

…a boat rounds the bend…bearing down…
three herons stand their ground…swaying…
did you see them land?
moon behind branches…
suddenly bright, clear, frosty

Winstone paints her poetry in talk-singing before leaping into a pool of organ as Wheeler plays us out. “Dream” sleeps peacefully in loving vocal arms.

you and I in a vast deserted square
everything crumbles to the ground
facing you, I slowly slide into the chasm of your smile…

We feel blissfully lost, somehow grounded by love yet pushed ever forward beyond our wildest desires and into humbler shelters. The piano of “Lost Song” then looks us in the eye as if to speak the next title: “Who Are You?” The trumpeting here is liquid mercury. Like Siegfried’s bird, it is a floating commentator, hanging from the thinnest of threads pinched in forested fingers.

…funny to think of the children we were
memories we walked right through
but now you ask,
I’d have to guess that you feel lonely too…

Music and song walk hand in hand into the slow dance that follows. In “Breathtaking,” Winstone touches glaring heights with her vast internal power, drawing her throat into the refractions of a “February Daze.” The Steve Reichian consistency in the keys lends unusual urgency to the group’s ethereal sound, which only further blurs the snapshot rendered in “Til Bakeblikk.” The album’s elixir is made complete with two “Potions,” the second of which sits perched on the softly swinging bar of its aural cage, forever singing, forever wanting, and finding flight only in the concluding silence.

This is Azimuth’s zenith and another significant chapter of ECM’s backstory. It’s easy to see why this album never made it on to the 3-disc retrospective, for to do so would have risked diluting its value as a standalone artifact. Essential for many reasons, not least of all for Taylor, who plays as if he were holding an inanimate body in his hands, tracing its every contour until it comes back to life.

<< Chick Corea: Septet (ECM 1297)
>> Marc Johnson: Bass Desires (ECM 1299)

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