CD REVIEW: Norma Winstone – Descansado: Songs for Films


Norma Winstone – Descansado: Songs for Films 
(ECM 578 6989. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This new CD is the fourth for ECM by acclaimed English vocalist Norma Winstone and her trio with Austrian Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone and Italian pianist Glauco Venier. The tunes are all new arrangements by Gesing and Venier of film music by Nino Rota, Michel Legrand, William Walton, Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone written for the films of De Sica, Fellini, Godard, Jewison, Olivier, Radford, Scorsese, Tornatore, Wenders, Wright and Zeffirelli.

The trio have been playing together since the early 2000s and there is a real sense of a shared sensibility in the intimacy of the duetting and trioing. Winstone has written some apt lyrics for six of the tunes, and vocalises wordlessly on others. All of the performances are superb, and the pared down arrangements are a joy.

Gesing is either bubbling away on his bass clarinet like a deep-voiced nightingale, or soaring above on his soprano saxophone. Venier‘s piano is wonderful, understated and yet endlessly inventive. The combination of these two musicians with Winstone’s subtle singing is fascinating, and the sensitivity of their musical interaction is a joy. They are joined on a few tracks by Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, whose contributions are perfect for these arrangements. Italian classical cellist Mario Brunello also puts in an appearance, notably on Rota’s What is a Youth? from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, to which he contributes a lovely warm reiteration of the melody line beneath Winstone’s ethereal vocals.

The title track of the album, Descansado, is from the 1963 Vittorio de Sica film Ieri, Oggi, Domani [yesterday, today, tomorrow], written by Armando Trovajoli originally as a Brazilian samba. The Venier arrangement is rhythmic, but more lilting and melodic than the original, and Winstone’s lyrics are a graceful call to enjoy life while you can: “How quickly we’re swept away... So just keep the music playing/While the city lights are shining, lighting up the way/We’ll gather rosebuds if we’re lucky/and enjoy living for today.”

The CD is dedicated to the memory of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler with whom Winstone collaborated for many years, separately and together. William Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips And Part, originally written for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V, is, touchingly, a piece that Taylor used to play. Winstone’s lyrics for this piece are of love and loss, and Mario Brunello’s warm cello sound underscores the gorgeous melody.

This is a beautifully realised CD full of graceful arrangements and performances. Some of the original cinema soundtracks are to my taste somewhat overblown, even slushy, and I actively prefer some of these new arrangements to the originals, but then isn’t that one of the pleasures of jazz, to discover whole new worlds within previously trite or sentimental popular tunes. I particularly love the sense of air and breathing space that often comes with chamber jazz, and this CD is a perfect example of the form: the delicacy of the writing and the immaculate playing of the Norma Winstone Trio on Descansado is a gentle delight.

Norma Winstone – voice
Klaus Gesing – bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Glauco Venier – piano
Helge Andreas Norbakken – percussion
Mario Brunello – violoncello, violoncello piccolo

Track listing
His Eyes, Her Eyes (The Thomas Crown Affair); What Is A Youth? (Romeo and Juliet); Descansado (Ieri, Oggi, Domani); Vivre Sa Vie; Lisbon Story; Malena; Il Postino; Amarcord; Meryton Townhall (Pride and Prejudice); Touch Her Soft Lips And Part (Henry V); So Close To Me Blues (Taxi Driver); Vivre Sa Vie.

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