“Distances” Norma Winstone’s first ECM recording in a decade is a project that indeed traverses territories, its wide-ranging repertoire embracing original material, tributes to Coltrane and to Pasolini, cover versions from Cole Porter to Peter Gabriel, pieces inspired by Italian folk music and by Erik Satie, a free calypso and more. For all its broad focus, however,b the music is unified by the rigorous control the musicians exert upon their material. This is jazz of chamber music sensibility and precision, by a trio that improvises in a clearly-defined group language. German reedman Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier have been influenced by Winstone’s earlier recordings, but they work with the material in ways entirely their own.
Both making ECM debuts here, Venier and Gesing have been active as duo partners for more than a decade. Guesting with them eight years ago Winstone recognized at once the potential for trio work: “it was very clear that there was a real possibility of the music developing.” The work has progressed on several levels. Both Venier and Gesing are imaginative composers and Winstone, a great singer still underrated as a lyricist, adds words that extend the atmospheres of the pieces with a poet’s sure touch. Conversely, piano and bass clarinet or soprano sax frequently underline the meaning of the words. The trio is more of a ‘songs band’ than was Azimuth which emphasized the voice-as-instrument (an approach revisited here on the song “Gorizia”).
Norma Winstone’s artistic path has been long and distinguished. In the 1960s the London-born jazz singer was a pioneer in vocal improvisation in important collaborations with musicians including Joe Harriott, John Stevens and Mike Westbrook. She came to ECM in the mid 1970s with the group Azimuth (with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler) whose five albums recorded between 1977 and 1994 set new standards in improvised chamber music, opened up a new space between jazz and the pattern-pulses of minimalism, and alerted the wider world to the qualities of Winstone’s singing.
Norma also appeared on ECM recordings under the leadership of Wheeler (“Music for Large and Small Ensembles”) and issued her own “Somewhere Called Home”, in which she put words to tunes by Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner and others and sang standards, in the company of John Taylor and Tony Coe. Beyond ECM she has collaborated with American jazz artists including Jimmy Rowles, Fred Hersch, Gary Burton and Steve Swallow, and UK jazz greats including Stan Tracey and Boby Wellins.
Glauco Venier graduated in organ and composition from the Udine Conservatory in 1985, then took private lessons with Franco d’Andrea before heading to Boston’s Berklee School. He has led his own bands since 1990 and played with a wide cross section of Italian and international musicians including Enrico Rava, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Joey Baron, Paolo Fresu and dozens more.
While studying classical music at the Den Hague Conservatory, Klaus Gesing also worked with bands playing own pieces, often inspired by Bulgarian music, strongly drawn to that tradition’s use of odds metres. Hwon the first prize of the "jugend jazzt" competition in Nordrhein-Westfalen in 1988 as a tenor sax player before transfering his attention to the soprano saxophone. On the bass clarinet, he sounds like no other player, establishing a unique role for the instrument in the trio with Winstone, alternating between a real bass function and lyrical, soloistic flights. Venier on piano establishes the harmonic frameworks, drawing influence from jazz and classical and Frisian folk sources. For Venier and for Gesing baroque counterpoint is as relevant a reference as New Orleans heterophony or folk music or free playing. In the liner notes for “Distances”, Norma Winstone, Glauco Venier and Klaus Gesing give insight into the way such elements are juxtaposed or combined in the group’s sound.
“Distances” was recorded at the Artesuone Studio in Udine, Glauco Venier’s hometown in April 2007.
The trio plays “Les signes parmi nous”, a festival dedicated to music from ECM at Schloss Elmau in Southern Gemany on the weekend of May 22-25 (more details soon). Other dates are in preparation.
More information about Norma Winstone and the trio at
CD booklet – with cover image by Jean-Luc Godard - includes all song texts, session photos, and liner notes by Steve Lake.