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Norma Winstone & Kit Downes - Outpost of Dreams(2)

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    Posted: 07 Jul 2024 at 11:08am

recording of the week,Norma Winstone & Kit Downes - Outpost of Dreams 

When veteran English jazz singer and lyricist Norma Winstone informed me last year that she was piecing together the final stages of a new duo recording with pianist Kit Downes, I could hardly contain my delight. For years, the exemplary vocalist has been contributing her self-penned poetry to the melodies of countless modern jazz idols, such as Ralph Towner and Steve Swallow. Once I found out her new album would be featuring a contemplative string of works from her former associates (in addition to a pair of interpretations of traditional folk songs) amongst its tracklisting of Downes-originals, my anticipation was heightened — my excitement doubled.

This engaging partnership between these two experts dates back several years to the opportune moment when Downes sat in for Nikki Iles, Norma's regular collaborator, who was unable to make the gig on that occasion. This intergenerational twosome have been playing together ever since, and, whilst Norma is considerate enough to honour previous working relationships, she isn't averse to forging new ones — all with the childish intrigue of discovering what unknown musical paths they might lead her down. 

Downes is no mere accompanist in this setting, as the album's joint-billing under the pianist’s name firmly attests. As a musician, he first broke through with Troyka and his own eponymous Mercury-nominated trio in 2010, which soon morphed into ‘Troykestra’ and ‘ENEMY’, respectively. Apart from his busy schedule of engagements as an indispensable collaborator across the world of alternative music, he routinely performs solo piano and organ concerts around the globe, having signed to ECM in 2018 and solidly entrenching himself within the label’s inscrutable ethos through a multifaceted discography of releases.

Of course, the piano-vocals duo is an area to which she is no stranger, having already performed under similar guises with the likes of master pianists Fred Hersch, Pablo Held and, of course, her former husband John Taylor, who passed away in 2015. Such is the calibre of Winstone's work in this idiom, not to mention the high regard her world-class partners must hold her in, that she remains able to offer reappraisals of this tried-and-tested format into her eighth decade with every new release, stamping a refined seal of softly gradating light and shade. 

On the other hand, the first production from the house of Eicher that featured Winstone’s contributions was Eberhard Weber’s Fluid Rustle (1979), to which the singer initially provided her signature brand of unknowable yet insistent wordless vocalisations. The first half of her career was marked on and off by this distinctive technique and its alluring charm. In the years to follow, Norma’s artistic collaborations would gradually begin to include more lyrical content, a move indicative of her growing interest in the expressive potential of words alongside music.

So, what to make of the album? It's been over six years since Winstone's last full-length album of new recordings was released, backed by her reliable band of German reedman Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier. Having lost none of the magical sensitivity which graced those classic ECM albums by Weber, Azimuth and Kenny Wheeler, she returns to the studio bearing the relatively short-term (though not inexperienced) fruits of this new kinship with the BBC Jazz Award-winning keyboard artist. Nevertheless, out of serendipitous beginnings, the duo have carefully set about weaving their majestic sonic thread.

Softly spoken spells, wistful but not overly sentimental and a keen sense of wondrous longing permeate this 41-minute recording. And, not since her work with John Taylor would I go as far as saying that Winstone has found a musical partner who can rival and complement her talents in this way. Cast your mind back to the couple’s In Concert (1999/2020) and their rendition of Dave Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ in which, about halfway through, Norma enters a brief passage of unaccompanied solo improvisation, never once losing her footing as she crosses the hazardous musical tightrope. Such is the generosity singers can find in partners like John Taylor and Kit Downes; like the greatest of showmen, they thrust their more-than-capable accomplices into the limelight, hanging effortlessly from the high-wire. Viva Norma!


Outpost of Dreams 

Norma Winstone & Kit Downes

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Barney Whittaker

from  www.prestomusic.com

Edited by snobb - 07 Jul 2024 at 11:09am
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