Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Norma Winstone - 1972 - Edge of Time

Norma Winstone
Edge of Time

01. Edge Of Time
02. Perkins Landing
03. Enjoy This Day
04. Erebus (Son Of Chaos)
05. Songs For A Child
06. Shadows
07. Song Of Love

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet – Mike Osborne (tracks: A2, A3, B1)
Bass – Chris Laurence (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4)
Drums – Tony Levin (2) (tracks: A1 to B1, B3)
Flute – Alan Skidmore (tracks: B4)
Guitar – Gary Boyle (tracks: B1)
Piano, Electric Piano – John Taylor (2) (tracks: A1 to B3)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Alan Skidmore (tracks: A1 to A3, B1)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Art Themen (tracks: A1 to B2, B4)
Trombone – Chris Pyne (tracks: A2, A3, B1), Malcolm Griffiths (tracks: A1 to A3, B1)
Trombone, Euphonium – Paul Rutherford (2) (tracks: A1 to B1)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Henry Lowther (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4), Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A2, A3, B1)
Vibraphone – Frank Ricotti (tracks: A1, B4)
Voice – Norma Winstone

Norma Winstone has a lissome voice, agile and expressive, and she's a fine improviser as well. That's not to say she's a vocal athlete, however; although she's known for her wordless improvisations, Winstone is a fine interpreter of lyrics and composed melody -- a plain-speaking, rhythmically direct singer who gets to the heart of the matter quickly and effectively.

Winstone played piano and organ in her youth. She began singing semi-professionally by the age of 17, influenced by conventional jazz vocalists. During the '60s she became attracted to the jazz avant-garde. She played in groups led by pianists Michael Garrick and Mike Westbrook; she also sang with such forward-thinking musicians as saxophonist John Surman, flügelhornist Kenny Wheeler, composer Michael Gibbs, and pianist John Taylor (whom she married in 1972). A late-'60s gig at Ronnie Scott's club in London (also on the bill was the legendary tenor saxophonist Roland Kirk) garnered her critical notice. In 1971 she was named best jazz singer in a poll by the British publication Melody Maker. That year, she recorded her first album as leader, Edge of Time, for the Decca label. With Wheeler and Taylor, Winstone formed Azimuth, a critically acclaimed contemporary chamber jazz group that recorded several times for the ECM label starting in the mid-'70s. Winstone is also an accomplished lyricist, having written words to music composed by guitarists Egberto Gismonti and Ralph Towner, bassist Steve Swallow, and vocalist Ivan Lins, among others.

Winstone has also performed and/or recorded in ensembles with Jimmy Rowles, Lee Konitz, Tony Coe, Fred Hersch, John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine, and George Mraz. In 1992 she collaborated with composer/arranger Steve Gray in the creation of "A French Folk Song Suite," commissioned and performed by the North German Radio big band. She is also a member of Wheeler's big band. In July 2002 she was awarded the title Best Vocalist at the BBC Jazz Awards at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. That same year, she released the album Chamber Music with pianist Glauco Venier. Winstone next returned in 2006 with Amoroso... Only More So featuring the Stan Tracey trio. Winstone then paired for two more albums with Venier, including 2007's Distances and 2009's Stories Yet to Tell. In 2013 Winstone delivered the album Mirrors with longtime collaborator Wheeler. The trio album Dance Without Answer, featuring Venier, appeared on ECM in 2014.

This album features many of the most significant musicians in British jazz of the late 1960s and 70s. It also benefits from imaginative compositions and arrangements by John Taylor, John Warren, Neil Ardley, John Surman and Norma Winstone herself.

The opening, title track written by Taylor and Winstone is a memorable exploration of both arrangement and improvisation in equal measure. A tentative beginning gives way to a dynamic brass arrangement accompanying a lyrical song, Winstone's voice ever-soaring and whooping. By contrast, the second track "Perkins Landing," a ballad by Warren and Winstone is a quieter affair with satisfying brass arrangement, featuring solos by Winstone and notably, Malcolm Griffiths on trombone.

"Enjoy this Day," the longest track, again penned by Taylor and Winstone, encapsulates the zeitgeist of this special but brief period in British jazz, evoking at various times the music of Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick and Ian Carr—all of whom featured Winstone's vocals on at least one of their albums—and here Winstone introduces some of her remarkable wordless singing to be found on Westbrook's underrated masterpiece Metropolis. An outstanding track which sandwiches dynamic arrangements with vocal and trumpet solos by Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, with still some room for a brief but powerful foray by Tony Levin on typically scintillating drums.

Alan Skidmore's ethereal flute, accompanied, by piano and bass, heralds a plangent opening to "Erebus (Son of Chaos)" slowly building into a high octane number with strident, haunting brass ensemble passages, vocal ululating improvisation, and on this track only, Gary Boyle on electric guitar. The culmination of a repeated riff in the final passage of this powerful composition perfectly typifies the writing skills of John Surman at his best.

On the short "Songs for a Child," an Annie Ross-like opening soon evolves into elegant wordless singing over a background of piano and Art Themen's lilting soprano saxophone duetting with the voice. The diffident vocal opening of the penultimate track "Shadows" transmutes into a fast paced rhythmical outing showcasing Henry Lowther's deft trumpet soloing, whilst the whole track is embellished by Winstone's masterly, tonally flexible vocals. The final, short track, "Song of Love" is a gentle ballad featuring voice and a drum-less quintet comprising flute, bass clarinet, trumpet, vibes and bass.

This is a very welcome digipak reissue of a notable album, for too long unavailable. Not for nothing was Norma Winstone voted top female singer for three years running in the Melody Maker jazz polls from 1971-1973, and this, her first solo album, originally released in 1972, is surely one of the reasons.

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