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Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell

John Kelman By

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Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell Distances (ECM, 2008) wasn't British vocalist Norma Winstone's first release to feature her current trio of reedman Klaus Gesing and pianist Glauco Venier, but with ECM Records' greater exposure and reputation, it was the first to reach a broader international audience. With Distance a largely lyric-based alternative to Winstone's always lovely wordless vocals on Chamber Music (Universal, 2004), Stories Yet to Tell is a worthy successor to both, with even greater emphasis on Winstone the lyricist—she contributes to eight of its twelve songs—making it an even more personal collection than either this trio's past releases or the hushed beauty of her 1987 ECM debut as a leader, Somewhere Called Home.

Like Distances, Stories Yet to Tell doesn't entirely desert Winstone's warm and enticing approach to wordless vocals—a style she's evolved since the mid-'70s and work with Azimuth, the groundbreaking trio with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Rather than scatting on top of a group of accompanists, Winstone's less-dominant—and, for that matter, less-is-more— approach integrates more seamlessly; a partner, rather than a leader. Her name may be on the marquee here, but it's clear that this is a trio of equals, with Venier and Gesing providing plenty of compositional support as well as instrumentation as soft and understated as Winstone's own voice and delivery.

Three of the four songs not featuring Wintone's lyrics are instrumentals. Arranged by Venier and recording engineer Amerio Stefano, they range from a buoyant reimagining of the pentatonic Friulian folk song," Lipe Rosiže," where Winstone's voice and Gesing's soprano sax meld effortlessly in its magnetic intro, to a pensive adaptation of a 13th century troubadour song. Their imaginative look at 16th century Italian composer Giorgio Mainerio's memorably melodic "Ballo Furlano"—where Gesing's deep lyricism and rhythmic propulsion underscore Venier's intrinsic classicism and Winstone's weaving economy—feels, somehow, like an early touchstone for Ralph Towner and Oregon.

When Winstone turns to lyrics, her approach is similar: her understatement and refreshingly non-melismatic selflessness all about the essence of the song—and, paradoxically, by doing nothing overt to draw attention to herself, doing exactly so. An influence on more than one generation of singers, Winstone's three songs co-written with Gesing are particularly impressive, especially the dark-hued "Sisyphus," where the trio's interpretive ability to flex time is at its most empathic. Winstone also adds lyrics to instrumental music from jazz icon Wayne Shorter and Armenian composer Komitas, whose gently insistent "Cradle Song (Hoy Nazan)" may be familiar to fans of Kim Kashkashian's Hayran (ECM, 2003); Winstone's voice, however, is considerably more alluring than pianist/composer Tigran Mansurian's rough-edged delivery on the violist's New Series date.

As Winstone moves ever farther from the Great American Songbook—her one nod, an achingly beautiful version of Caymmi/Motta/Bergman's "Like a Lover"— it's certain that, with band mates as sympathetic as Gesing and Venier, there's precious little she can't do. Stories Yet to Tell could be the pithy mission statement for this sublime trio, as it continues to mine a breadth of external sources, filtered through its own softly refracting internal prism.

Track Listing: Just Sometimes; Sisyphus; Cradle Song (Hoy Nazan); Like a Lover; Rush; The Titles; Carnera; Lipe Rosiže; Among the Clouds; Ballo Furlano; Goddess; En more d'En Joan de Cucanh.

Personnel: Norma Winstone: voice; Klaus Gesing: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Glauco Venier: piano.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records | Style: Fringes of Jazz


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