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Norma Winstone: Descansado - Songs For Films

John Ephland By

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Norma Winstone has had her current trio since 2001, long enough to have released five albums (four for ECM). Descansado, a celebration of cinema through the language of music, is that fourth CD, and it's a winner from start to finish. The album's title derives from a Armando Trovajoli composition, used in Italian director Vittorio De Sica's 1963 film Ieri, Oggi, Domani (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow). The group's rendition of this touching number is typically sublime.

With bass clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing and pianist Glauco Venier, the singer is once again both indistinguishable from her mates—all three being equally adept at spinning yarns, raveling and unraveling lines where you no longer hear a singer accompanied but instead a group of musicians in a kind of arranged musical chairs—and undeniably front and center with her voice.

Joining the trio for selected tracks on Descansado are percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken and cellist Mario Brunello. Their contributions add a particular luster to certain arrangements that deepen and enlarge the instrumental palette and, thus, more instruments for Winstone's voice to get lost in, play with and accompany. While there are obviously no original compositions (unlike on their previous CDs), Descansado enjoys arrangements primarily by Venier, who was essentially the driver for the album's concept, not to mention chief selector of material. The liner notes include all of the songs' lyrics.

Michel Legrand wrote "His Eyes, Her Eyes" as one of the lead themes to Norman Jewison's 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. That was half a century ago, but the song could have been written for this album, and for Winstone, so perfectly suited is it to her impeccable grasp of the intimate, quiet, daringly melodic, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman to match. Beginning Descansado, it is one of many examples where the trio works closely together, in a kind of gentle dance; in this case, they embrace Legrand's deliriously simple tune, a tune that has it all, lovely cadences, revealing words, a jazzy vibe, a platform for rumination between three extremely sympathetic artists performing as one.

The bulk of the music this trio has previously performed for ECM—on Distances (2008), Stories Yet To Tell (2010) and Dance Without Answer (2014)—embraces an unconventional waywardness that includes a connection to jazz but more often works in territory more suited to folk and classical realms. Descansado, while also employing similar strategies (for instance, on Dario Marianelli's lively ode "Meryton Town Hall" from Joe Wright's 2005 film Pride And Prejudice with lyrics by Winstone, and on Nina Rota's stately, mournful "What Is A Youth?" from Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film Romeo And Juliet with cello and percussion added for emphasis) tacks toward a looser, more improvisatory, jazz sensibility, finding connections between film music and jazz that have been there ever since the first sound film, in 1927, with Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer.

There are two versions of Legrand's "Vivre Sa Vie" recorded, the music from the 1962 Jean-Luc Godard film of the same name. To quote from a recent Downbeat interview, Winstone recalls, "It was [producer] Manfred Eicher's idea. It wasn't one we were going to do. While we were talking about the music, I suppose because we did one Michel Legrand piece ['His Eyes, Her Eyes'], he suddenly said, 'Have you ever heard Legrand's music for Vivre Sa Vie?' And we hadn't. He said it's a favorite piece of film music, he loves it. So, after the first day's recording, when this was mentioned, both Glauco and Klaus transcribed it from the internet overnight and we recorded it the next morning. There's a very brief version with only piano that Manfred decided to put on at the very end."

Winstone's singing voice remains a constant, no matter who she's playing with, and regardless of content. Like Shirley Horn, she has taken the human voice—the female voice to be specific—and brought us close to her, or her to us, the effect at times part lullaby/bedtime story, part adult imagination given free reign. Not whispering, never belting, she's more than just easy on the ears, capable of moving us to tears, even if she's also capable of the subtle shock, a sudden twist, a harsh interlude. And with a magnetic talent for creating stunning musical alliances, Winstone seems to always end up with highly sympathetic colleagues. It is as if she has been cunning to get the right people all along, fully in control of not only her muse but theirs as well.

Track Listing: His Eyes, Her Eyes; What Is A Youth?; Descansado; Vivre sa vie; Lisbon Story; Malena; Il postino; Amarcord; Meryton Townhall; Touch Her Soft Lips And Part; Theme (So Close To Me Blues); Vivre sa vie. (48:35)

Personnel: Norma Winstone, voice; Klaus Gesing, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Glauco Venier, piano; Helge Andreas Norbakken, percussion; Mario Brunello, cello.

Title: Descansado - Songs For Films | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: ECM Records

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