Norma Winstone Trio: Distances (ECM 2028)


Norma Winstone Trio

Norma Winstone voice
Glauco Venier piano
Klaus Gesing bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Recorded April 2007 Artesuono Recording Studios, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Supervision: Guido Gorna
Editing and mixing: Stefano Amerio and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

German reedist Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier join the ECM roster for the first time in an astonishing trio album with veteran singer and lyricist Norma Winstone. Whereas in her past efforts for the label Winstone used her voice as much as a melodic tool as an agent of song, here she steeps the listener in a richly textured feeling not experienced since her 1987 masterpiece, Somewhere Called Home.

“Distance” sets the stage not only thematically, but also musically. The tune is by Venier, whose gentle ostinato exudes an atmosphere that is as weightless as Winstone’s lyrics are gravid. The whispers of Gesing’s bass clarinet complete this portrait of a subterranean world run dry. A prologue to an album of prologues.

Venier further pens “Gorizia” and “The Mermaid.” The former is a halting and wordless waltz that dissolves like ink in water, while the latter is another lyrical bird’s nest. Winstone and Gesing respectively provide words and music for “Drifter” and “Giant’s Gentle Stride,” both adaptive verses that sweep through the composer’s gorgeous reed work with ease. Winstone deepens the circle in “Remembering The Start Of A Never Ending Story,” set to the music of pianist Hubert Nuss. What begins as a play of light and glass finds solace through the soprano’s wide-flung window. In the haunting “Ciant,” Winstone sings words by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini to the tune of Erik Satie’s Petite Ouverture à danser, the peaks and valleys of which become interchangeable, each the yin to the other’s yang.

Winstone and her telepathic trio also reverse-engineer popular songs to an elemental sort of understanding. The Cole Porter chestnut “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” for one, pairs her and Gesing’s soprano to stunning effect. Moving like wings in concert, the duo reads the wind as Venier follows their birdlike shadow. Their version of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” shines even brighter. Against a backdrop of palpable color, its celestial interpretations and earthly ruminations combine with the precision of a chamber music ensemble.

Finishing off the album’s eclectic stride is “A Song for England,” which finds the trio improvising on a Caribbean calypso, with words by Jamaican-born writer Andrew Salkey. The bass clarinet’s rhythmic support buoys a purely melodic Winstone before switching over to discernible lyric amid a shower of whimsy.

Distances is an album one wishes could go on and on. That said, its compactness offers plenty to rediscover on repeat listening. Combinations like this happen only rarely, and Winstone’s puzzle comes out of the box completed, glued together, and glowing with atmosphere. Hers is a voice that sings not because it must be heard by the world, but because it must itself hear the world. It speaks only of what it has known.

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