Kitty Winter has many voices. In this suite of loosely connected songs, she chronicles the travels of the Gipsy people, and her own, her personal experiences turned into lyrics by a band mate. The musical horizon is also broad, taking in synthesizers, mellow horns, tape effects, exotic percussion, guitars of various flavors, and an orchestra. All this is secondary to Kitty, who darts, scats, and (on most tracks) forms her own choir through massive overdubs. Kitty Winter has many voices.
We begin at “Punjab”, not the Joe Henderson tune but the ancestral home of the Gipsies. It begins with a wordless vocal (it might be played backwards), then tabla and bells weave their way among the keyboards. The words begin with Kitty alone in her room. She hears the distant music, and now the choir begins: “I close my eyes and drift away.” The overdubbed Kittys sound very lush, like a second synth as they float behind Tony Lakatos’ darting soprano. It’s a new sound to these ears, almost like a Bulgarian women’s choir, and very ethereal. Lakatos has a sharp little solo, and Kitty’s massed voice sends us drifting away on a blanket of sound.
“Promised Land” is more aggressive, based on a three-note pattern which the Kitty choir states with unfamiliar harmonies. Here she sings at the top of her range, and her childlike tone works well with the simple message: “Never give up hope (that we find)/And we all live in peace/ And we all find in time peace of mind...”. Kitty’s husband Koono is the only musician here, and he is very busy, with jabbing synths and bursts of accordion.
“Pigadi Sunset” comes from a fishing village in Greece. Kitty sits on the shore despondent: “Because ships leaving, leaving the harbour – they make me cry.” Synths play the role of the sea, as Bireli Ligrene plays rapid guitar figures, which are the ships moving away. This one doesn’t come to life until the last verse, where Kitty sits in a garden and dreams: “Let my mind wander all over my life/ Some day I go/ On a boat with pillowed sail.” Koono gets some nice aquatic sounds, and Kitty is hopeful, as she imagines herself far away. It’s a nice thought, just before Kitty gets closer to home.
With “Little Korea” comes a startling change of mood. Kitty songs simply and sad as she recalls the poor quarter where she grew up. She is joined by her brother Letcho, singing in a delightful baritone. It opens on a lonely piano, and builds to a full orchestra, its elegant lines heightening the emotion here. This is probably Kitty’s best moment, and Letcho impresses me as well.
The big attraction of the album is “Zawinology”, a five-part suite composed by Joe Zawinul with words by Kitty’s lyricist Willi Gartner. To be honest, it doesn’t do much for me, although it does have its moments. As you would expect from Weather Report, the music is funky and a bit more aggressive than what we’ve heard so far. Zawinul himself appears on “The Dance”, and Kitty has fun scatting over his lines. “crazy About Music” has a nice lyric about Glamorous New York that fits the jaunty music. Kitty smiles as she sings this one. The last part of the suite, “Silent Ways”, is played by the orchestra. Like “Little Korea”, Kitty sings simply and richly, and Zawinul’s line sounds great played by lots of strings. Consider the suite Kitty’s Uptown Jaunt.
“Couscous Royal” is my favorite track; easily the best-written song on the album. Kitty comes on like a muzzein, wailing high amidst a raft of percussion. The words are rather clever: “We went into Tunis/ And we thought this little tune is/ What the people over there would really like to hear.” The break is full of low organ and lots of noisemakers; Kitty jumps in for a spot of scatting before repeating the wordless vocals at the beginning.
“Out Of the Blue” is a neat little trifle, as the Kitty choir joins Koono in an a cappella tribute to Manhattan Transfer. Her voice really stands out here and the lyrics are very attractive. It works; I would have liked more of this.
“Different Ways” opens with lovely flugelhorn and placid guitar. It’s a lovely moment – then a samba breaks out! Kitty has fun with this one, a sunny number written by Martin Spiegelberg, the composer of “Couscous Royal”. This track was made with the original members of Gipsy Nova (formed 20 years ago), and it’s one of the best. The last half of this album is truly outstanding, with a wide palette and many changing moods. It’s an intriguing blend you just might hear again.