Winstone/Gesing/Venier: Dance Without Answer (ECM 2333)

Dance Without Answer

Dance Without Answer

Norma Winstone voice
Klaus Gesing bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Glauco Venier piano
Recorded December 2012, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When a night black as coal
Placed a cloud in her soul.
Still she found the wings to fly
To the higher places…

When people compare something to a fine wine, they mean to say that its flavor deepens with age. But what of the color? It, too, changes, taking on new hues as light strikes the residuals of its enjoyment. This is more like what Winstone’s voice can do to her listener, who is but the glass to her vintage and through the prism of her words takes on something of their atmosphere. Indeed, here is an album that begs a fireplace, an upturned book, and shelter from a snowstorm.

Winstone has rarely sounded better than in the company of reedist Klaus Gesing and pianist Glauco Venier. On Dance Without Answer, she joins them for a third time on ECM. There has always been something therapeutic about Winstone’s music. It always seems to deal with coping, whether with joy or sadness, as expressed in the opening title track. The figure of Venier’s piano casts a long-drawn shadow like the body of Gesing’s clarinet. Their instrumental foundation bleeds through transitions from day to night, where truths and lies of love coexist as reminders of what might never be.

In spite of a thematic consistency, the moods of this trio are as varied as the linguistic colors of the titles. Winstone and her bandmates take the listener through the stark histrionics of “Cucurrucucu Paloma” (a portrait of abandonment) and the folkish “Gust Da Essi Viva” (filigreed by Gesing’s soprano) to the earthier “A Tor A Tor” (centered by a didgeridoo-like bass clarinet) and the evocative “Slow Fox” without lapsing into a single unnecessary detour. Yet Winstone shines brightest in the darkest places. In a wordless, raga-like style, she brings hope to “High Places” and follows what would seem to be the same female protagonist through the experiential dramas of “A Breath Away,” a remarkable lullaby that sets Winstone’s lyrics to a tune by Ralph Towner. And yet, while the poignant “It Might Be You” may seem to confirm its elusive presence—love in this album is an asymptote, so that even here she encounters the realization but not consummation of it.

Rounding out the set is a bouquet plucked from the popular canon. In Nick Drake’s “Time Of No Reply” Winstone mediates between realms of light and loneliness, while from Joe Raposo’s timeworn “Bein’ Green” she teases out visceral tenderness. Regardless of the words, she puts her all into each color change. But before Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” closes the album with a final survey of the palette, we also reckon with Madonna in the panoramic “Live To Tell” and Tom Waits in the bluesier “San Diego Serenade,” of which one line says it all: Never heard the melody ’til I needed the song. Prophetic words for those who never needed these songs until they heard the melodies, and a clue to the album’s name: the dance does have an answer, and it is the music itself.

(To hear samples of Dance Without Answer, click here.)

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