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June 2003

Fred Hersch/Norma Winstone
Songs and Lullabies
Sunnyside

There's something satisfyingly elemental about the pairing of pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Norma Winstone. Throughout Songs & Lullabies, an exemplary collection of Hersch originals refitted with fresh Winstone lyrics, he is water and fire, she is earth and air.

Winstone, for my money the finest British jazz singer of her generation, blends the grounded confidence of Blossom Dearie with the wistfulness of Helen Merrill. Hersch's astute responses range from smoldering to cascading. On "Longing," strongly reminiscent of "Lazy Afternoon," Hersch traces the trembling anticipation of Winstone's words, escalating from a tentative emotional trickle to a gushing geyser. "A Wish" recalls "Some Other Time" as she explores the delusional hopefulness of the incurable romantic while he provides a feathery musical bed for bittersweet daydreams. "Lost in Another Time" begins as an exercise in sugary nostalgia then, after a boldly discordant slap from Hersch, takes a sharp left turn toward bitter resentment and abandoned dreams. On "Bird in the Rain," filled with dewy hope, Hersch creates what sounds like tiny raindrops kissed by Beethoven.

Ten of the album's 11 tracks explore ethereal themes of wind, flight and spirit. Just to shake things up a bit, there's also "The Eighth Deadly Sin" (one of three tracks enlivened by Gary Burton on vibes). It's a delightful nod to the slothful art of procrastination, with Hersch and Burton providing playful, jangling accompaniment to shape a wonderfully whimsical salute to lethargy.

Originally published in June 2003
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