REVIEW: Norma Winstone at the 2018 Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf)

 
Norma Winstone

Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing, Glauco Venier plus special guest Abel Selaocoe
(Royal Northern College of Music, 27 July 2018. Review and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

A programme of familiar and perhaps less-recognised music from the movies was brought to Manchester by the esteemed Norma Winstone MBE and her ECM recording colleagues Klaus Gesing (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone) and Glauco Venier (piano). Presenting material mainly from their latest release, Descansado – Songs for Films, they were augmented by the considerable talent of cellist and Royal Northern College of Music alumnus Abel Selaocoe.

The focus of this current chamber jazz project is the reinterpretation of cinematic instrumental masterpieces as vocal songs, many with lyrics crafted and then brought to life with typical finesse by Winstone. After five albums together, it was enthralling to witness the trio’s natural rapport, and astonishing to discover that Selaocoe had only joined them that day to rehearse and contribute so eloquently to this performance.

A broad filmography was explored, from the melancholy piano rivulets and impassioned soprano improvisations of Michel Legrand’s His Eyes, Her Eyes (The Thomas Crown Affair), shaped by Winstone’s characteristic, now more mature voice, to the plaintive emotion of Nino Rota’s What is a Youth? (Romeo and Juliet) where deep bass clarinet resonances mingled with lyrical cello, buoyed by piano-string rhythms. The quartet fashioned other textures, too: Descansado (from leri, Oggi, Domani) was embellished by Selaocoe’s percussive knocks against the sides of his cello as it effectively blended with Gesing’s pizzicato bass clarinet; and in Madredeus’ energetic Lisbon Story, Winstone’s scat – almost wailing, at times – joined soprano sax to create an African-style chant (Gesing pitch-bending by closing his leg against the bell of the horn).

Glauco Venier, Norma Winstone, Abel Selaocoe, Klaus Gesing
A carnival-like exuberance put a new twist on Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking At Me (Midnight Cowboy) as Venier’s rolling piano phrases prompted theatrical, even comedic soprano. The bluesy emotion of Bernard Herrmann’s Theme from The Taxi Driver (Winstone quipping,“Glauco wanted to do it, so I agreed… in the end!”) shone as wind blew through Gesing’s bass clarinet; and Carter Burwell’s bucolic, dancing The Gaelic Reels (Rob Roy) was portrayed through highlands-evoking soprinano whistle, piano-fifths propulsion and lively scat.

Reimagining Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips and Part with sublime tranquillity, Winstone recalled a similarly exquisite reading on Pete Erskine’s As It Is album with John Taylor and Palle Danielsson, whilst joyful folk dance Meryton Townhall (Pride and Prejudice) segued into Venier’s lively Lipe Rosize (from the trio’s Stories Yet to Tell album), Selaocoe’s cello and deep African vocal chant creating a drone-like ground with bass clarinet for Winstone to improvise across. An enthusiastic call for encore prompted the wistful, subdued charm of Gesing’s The Titles, Norma Winstone’s words dedicated to moviegoers who stay to watch the credits until the end – “He sits in the darkness, still watching the lights… there’s nothing to do but go home”. A fitting "curtain down" on a sublime evening of music.

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