Trio – Winstone, Gesing, Venier

An English singer, a German reedman, an Italian pianist. Sometimes called Distances
(they prefer this), sometimes the Norma Winstone Trio or Norma Winstone’s
Chamber Music, by any name a remarkable group whose intimate performances
encompass a great arc of music. Here are three adventurous musicians united by a
profound feeling for song. The stark instrumentation – voice, piano, bass clarinet/
soprano sax – seems never to limit their repertoire, but to encourage the players to
explore widely, and to make musical use of the available space.
Jazz ballads, old and new, find their place alongside – for instance – adaptations of
Friulian folk songs, and ‘chamber’ pieces influenced by classical or contemporary
composition. Textures, colours and rhythms may be drawn from scattered, surprising
sources: a sudden bright flash of calypso, perhaps, or the hypnotic lulling of an
Armenian cradle song. Winstone, Gesing and Venier have played songs from Cole
Porter to Komitas, borrowed melodies from Satie and Coltrane, culled lyrics from
James Joyce poems and Christina Rosetti nursery rhymes. What they take they make
their own, much of the material they compose themselves, and most of the words are
Norma’s. As both singer and lyricist she has few contemporary peers: her words seem
to float up from the music’s expressive core.
Nonetheless, this is not a story of singer and accompanists. If the group is Norma’s, as
some promoters insist, she was the last to join it. In reality it is a band in which
creative responsibilities are very equally shared. Glauco Venier and Klaus Gesing
have collaborated in musical projects since the mid-90s, including a long running duo.
They invited Norma to join them for Italian concerts a decade ago and the singer soon
recognized a potential for developing a trio music with its own specific character,
meanwhile documented on three outstanding recordings: “Chamber
Music” (Universal, 2004), the Grammy-nominated “Distances” (ECM, 2008), and
“Stories Yet To Tell” (ECM, for release Autumn 2010).
The recordings give an index of the group’s range, and reveal Venier and Gesing as
gifted composers and distinctive instrumentalists. Venier’s choice of notes and his
harmonizations are strikingly original, and Gesing has established his own
methodology for bass clarinet in particular, vaulting between rhythm and melody
functions, and matching textures and phrases with Winstone’s subtle voice.
From the beginning of her life in jazz, Norma Winstone has wanted to be part of the
ensemble,  rather than a frontwoman. She uses her voice ‘instrumentally’, to interweave
improvised lines with her partners and participate in the blossoming harmony. When
singing texts, she draws her fellow musicians ever deeper into the storylines sketched
by the lyrics, until the plot is illuminated from three perspectives. It is a point of
honour with this trio never to tell the tale, or play the music, the same way twice. One
reason, amongst many, why it is important to experience the group live as well as on
disc.
Steve Lake