British vocalist Norma Win-stone’s latest exercise in visionary artistry marks her first recordings for the lofty ECM label in over a decade. Listening to the album unfold is like being a fly on the wall at some chic Continental salon, with dusty afternoon sunlight filtering through the lace curtains as Winstone, German clarinetist and saxophonist Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier weave dense, muted jazz tapestries. The mood is mellow, the atmosphere charged with intellectual electricity, and the musicianship sublime.
Winstone, Gesing and Venier dance an exquisitely choreographed pied à trois as they meander from the affecting wanderlust of “Drifter” and gentle heartache of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” to the tender homesickness of “Ciant” (based on Erik Satie’s “Petite ouverture à danser” with lyrics by Pier Paolo Pasolini) and fast-mounting threat of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood.”
The first nine tracks suggest a flock of doves, ranging in hue from steel- to pearl-gray, arranged in perfect formation, each as finely crafted as Dashiell Hammett’s precious falcon. Then, suddenly, in swoops a brightly plumed macaw in the guise of “A Song for England.” An impromptu calypso, constructed around lines from Panamanian poet Andrew Salkey’s “Caribbean Voices, Vol. 2” and crafted at the recording session, it is the jaunty piper that cheerily leads Winstone and company from the dance floor.