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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 7-9

John Kelman By

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Three of the trio's recordings are on ECM Records, beginning with 2008's Distances, followed by 2010's Stories Yet to Tell and, most recently, this year's Dance Without Answer (2014), from which Winstone culled the majority of the trio's material for 70-minute set. That the interpretations were both reverent to the arrangements on the recordings while, at the same time, delivered with a kind of effortless freedom that made them entirely different experiences, went without saying.

What's perhaps less evident on the recordings, however, is how much fun this trio has together. At one point, between songs, Venier walked across the stage to say something to Gesing; with Winstone looking at him as if she was thinking "what are you up to?" he said to her, "I have to talk to Klaus," to which Gesing quickly quipped, "As far as dance performances, this is it." These folks were sharp, and it was this kind of playful banter that made the performance more than just a stellar example of trio interplay and the real potential of the human voice, with WInstone going well beyond the conventional scat singing so often heard. Not that Winstone can't scat—she can, and she did—but her approach to improvising with her trio went farther than that, with articulations that were less bebop and more natural articulations that blended seamlessly with the trio, in particular Gesing, whose saxophone work soared above around, below and occasionally with Winstone, and whose bass clarinet work was—and always has been—particularly impressive.

While possessing plenty of chops, Gesing proved himself a musician more concerned with the core of a song than meaningless displays of virtuosity—a virtuosity that everyone in the trio clearly possessed and demonstrated when the time was right and the song demanded it—but he was just as comfortable delivering long, low register notes made even deeper through his subtle use of electronics throughout the set. His bass clarinet work on the trio's reading of Madonna's "Live to Tell"—a song that's also been covered by Bill Frisell on his "covers" recording, Have a Little Faith (Nonesuch, 1993)—was particularly impressive for its dark, woody simplicity and underscoring nuances. Whereas Frisell took the tune to incendiary heights, Winstone's delivery and the elegant, refined and ever-subtle support from Venier and Gesing was something else entirely; with the utmost control of dynamics, this trio was capable of making even the slightest shift bold, vivid and dramatic.

From her original lyrics, written to music by Venier, Gesing and Ralph Towner, to covers ranging from Nick Drake's set-opening "No Reply," her stunning mid-set version of "Live to Tell" and a reverent yet deeply personal version of Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood," Winstone was as impeccable as it's ever been, whether she was adhering to the song's melody or taking it places the original composer might never have imagined possible. Her interaction with the trio made this more than a singer with a backup band; instead, it was a thoroughly egalitarian affair, where Winstone did, indeed, take the front position at times, but elsewhere integrated with Venier and Gesing as if it were a single voice rather than three; and, of course, both Venier and Gesing had opportunities to shine individually as well.

Venier remains, in fact, a largely hidden treasure: a pianist who, like fellow countryman and ECM label mate Stefano Bollani, possesses a quick, sharp wit and was a mischievous presence throughout the set, imbuing songs like "Ator, Ator"—written by the pianist and sung by WInstone, to perfection, in an Italian dialect endemic to his hometown of Udine, Italy—with a constant sense of surprise. The song also demonstrated that this trio didn't need a percussionist because, between Gesing's extended tonguing technique, Venier's inside the box work and Winstone's vocal approach, they suddenly turned into a percussion trio before returning to their generally lyrical disposition.

Early in the set WInstone joked about having CDs for sale, hoping that people would buy them so she wouldn't have to bring them home with her. She needn't have worried. Following a set that will easily rank as one of the festival's best this year, with all three members of the trio at the merchandise table signing CDs after the show, not only was there not a single copy left for her to take with her, she could have actually sold more if she'd had them.

June 28: Partisans

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