Azimuth: “How it was then…never again” (ECM 1538)

“How it was then…never again”

Norma Winstone vocals
John Taylor piano
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Recorded April 1994 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Even at rare lackluster moments, the sporadic ruminations of vocalist Norma Winstone, pianist John Taylor, and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler never fail to grow in a depth of sound and color few trios can match. Yet Azimuth, as the group came to be known, was more than a triangular configuration, but a multifaceted statement on music as shapeable material. This exhumation of twilit pasts begins in “How It Was Then,” a survey of long-forgotten cotton fields bowing to the winds of passage. Stars open and close—each an eye on the verge of tears—to the rhythm of Taylor’s string patter. Such evocative touches abound throughout the session, paving stretches of empty road in “Looking On” and stirring up dizzying articulations in “Whirlpool.” As on previous Azimuth outings, Wheeler remains the voice of reason, foiling Winstone’s apparitional poetics with solid chromatics. He is the keystone of “Stango” (Stanko + tango?) and glows in his multitracked rendering of “How Deep Is The Ocean.” For her part, Winstone goes wordless in foggy scenes like “Full Circle,” but always with the tender signatures of Taylor’s plush commentary close at hand. Bobo Stenson’s “Mindiatyr” drops another nod to the ECM matrix, building careful reminiscence and holding us as the mind would cradle a memory. Because it feels so much like an ending, the fibers of “Wintersweet” that follow weave a cloak of epilogue and reprise Winstone’s gorgeous lyrics at the fore.

How it was then… is a genealogy of emotions and places, a tale of winter blooms that hook their stamen onto errant sunrays and uproot themselves into weightless life. Though not as essential as earlier work, it waits all the same with bated breath and open arms.

<< Bley/Parker/Phillips: Time Will Tell (ECM 1537)
>> Prague Chamber Choir: Dvořák/Janáček/Eben (ECM 1539 NS)

2 thoughts on “Azimuth: “How it was then…never again” (ECM 1538)

  1. I agree with your “not as essential” comment. Perhaps the phenomenon of Azimuth was starting to play itself out in this form (the excellence of Winstone’s solo discs on ECM indicate that other great stories exist with her as the main guide). For me, nothing will ever shine quite so brightly as their first two releases – perhaps because they were so unexpected, fresh and unique.

    1. Well said. I think what this record is really missing is more words. Winstone’s poetry could have done so much to enliven it. As it stands, a great one for a pleasant swim, but not deep enough for a dive.

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