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Norma Winstone: Descansado: Songs for Films (ECM)

Review of album by noted British jazz vocalist performing an eclectic set of songs from movies

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Cover of Norma Winstone album Descansado: Songs for Films
Cover of Norma Winstone album Descansado: Songs for Films

If there is a voice that aptly defines the ECM aesthetic, it is surely Norma Winstone: slight yet sinewy, silken yet stalwart, ideal for etching the sort of minimalist masterworks that are the label’s stock-in-trade. Here, alongside her regular trio-mates, pianist Glauco Venier and multireedist Klaus Gesing, augmented by percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken and cellist Mario Brunello, Winstone draws upon showpieces from another medium, film. But this is no mere assemblage of movie songs: no “Laura,” or “The Shadow of Your Smile,” or similarly oft-covered choices. The scope of source material is broad—from Laurence Olivier’s 1944 Henry V to Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice—and cinematically grand, with nods to Fellini, Zeffirelli, Godard, De Sica, Scorsese, Jewison and Wenders.

Eleven of the dozen tracks divide into three segments. Winstone opens with two extant gems: Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s deeply romantic “His Eyes, Her Eyes,” from 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair; and Nina Rota and Eugene Walter’s tender “What Is a Youth?,” from that same year’s Romeo and Juliet. Winstone adds lyrics to five selections, brilliantly underscoring and accenting the storylines of Amarcord, Henry V, Il Postino, Taxi Driver and, from the Sophia Loren-Marcello Mastroianni comic triptych Ieri, Oggi, Domani (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), the title track. And she lends her trademark—spectral wordless accompaniment—to four others, including the Legrand-crafted theme from Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie, repeated to close the album in a brief, gorgeous solo turn by Venier.

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