Friday, 6 November 2009

Norma Winstone - Kettle's Yard - 17th October 2008

The elegant untempered 1960’s modernism of Kettle’s Yard, the preserved house of the Tate Gallery curator Jim Ede, serves as an ideal backdrop for sophisticated jazz, with its beautiful baby grand piano and a number of paintings that wouldn’t seem out of place on Blue Note LP sleeves.

The Norma Winstone trio started their set at 7.30 and played for 2 hours, with a half an hour interval during which concert goers were free to wander around the gallery space. The music was grounded in the early 20th century classical tradition and mixed the sound of Scandinavian post-bop with European folk melodies. Some songs took the form of jazz ballads, others were reworkings of folk songs and even Erik Satie.

The end product was lyrical, calm and contemplative, a tasteful convergence of a timelessly classic sound with certain progressive elements - Venier’s piano string plucking/muting a nod to the likes of Cecil Taylor and Gesing’s didgeridoo-like circular breathing bass clarinet tones and noisy valve clamping reminiscent of Eric Dolphy. Winstone’s vocal effects are very much her own; she pushed her voice from rich sonorous lows to strained but taught high-pitched yelps and covered the spectrum in-between. The rhythm was mostly straight with lots of rubato, but at two moments the piano and sax momentarily joined together and swung strongly and ecstatically.

The musicians played unselfishly and as a unit; they never sat back or indulged in cliché and weren’t afraid to pause rather than get stale. This meant that the music contained a great deal of space and felt unhurried and considered. For the piano and voice duet on the ballad 'The Heather on the Hill', Venier adopted an Evansian approach, fluidly interspersing graceful melodic lines with rich and nuanced chord voicings. This created an ideal backing for Winstone’s singing and allowed her to show why she has proved to be such an influential and recognized voice in the jazz world.

Considering the quality of music and the unparalleled setting, the predominantly middle-aged audience was a shame. Hopefully there will be a few more young faces taking advantage of the student concession for the Roger Mitchell Trio at the Junction on November 7.

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