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Norma Winstone, Glauco Venier and Klaus Gesing at Joe's Pub

Budd Kopman By
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Norma Winstone at Joe's Pub, NYC
Joe's Pub
New York City, New York
June 26, 2008

Vocalist Norma Winstone came to Joe's Pub for two sets with her new trio composed of pianist Glauco Venier and reedman Klaus Gesing, supporting her release on ECM, Distances (2008). In front of a packed, enthusiastic, early-set house, the trio gave a mesmerizing performance that highlighted their strength as a unit, as well as each player's unique musical identity.

Anytime an ECM group performs, there is the question of how the fabled "immense immediacy" that is one of the main characteristics of the "ECM sound" will translate in live performance. The answer was not long in coming. The sound at Joe's Pub is quite clear and transparent, and despite the piano's being a bit too loud and the reeds a bit too soft, the emotional immediacy of the trio's music was communicated directly with a combination of poignancy and good humor.

While Winstone was the headliner, there is no doubt that she would give as much, if not more, credit to her musical compatriots, Venier and Gesing. The chemistry between the three is evident, heart-warming to watch as well as hear. Winstone's work with the trio Azimuth (with pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler), on ECM recordings spanning the years 1977 to 1995, accounts for her reputation as a vocal instrumentalist rather than a singer of songs.

It is this history that makes the current group so interesting in that while the group's spare instrumental sound recalls Azimuth's, the emphasis here is on music with words. However, the result is not strictly songs in the commonplace sense, since the originals are musical pieces composed by Venier or Gesing with lyrics added by Winstone.

The flow of the words does not, for the most part, fall into the regular phrase lengths and structures associated with conventional popular "tunes," but something closer to stories. When this narrative feature is combined with the arrangements that bring Venier's piano and Gesing's soprano saxophone and bass clarinet into full partnership with Winstone's voice, the result is a very seductive sound that soon embraces the listener.

A number of tracks from the album were performed, including the originals "Distance," "Giant's Gentle Stride" (an homage to John Coltrane, based on "Giant Steps"), "The Mermaid," and the wordless "Gorizia," but also the standard "Every Time We Say Goodbye" by Cole Porter, with Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes The Flood" as the encore.

The latter songs, plus one by Tom Waits, showed how Winstone can interpret someone else's words and music, along with more formal, conventional structures, and make the material her own, with Venier and Gesing adding the magic when supporting and soloing.

This set demonstrated what makes jazz such an important art form: everyone, both audience and performers, visibly had a good time while performing and experiencing music of emotional depth. One hopes for much more music from Winstone, Venier and Gesing.

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