by Ian Mann
December 11, 2020
A superbly intimate set from an exceptional trio, whose already impressive rapport seemed to become deeper and more profound as the performance progressed.
Tim Garland – Winter Encounters
Winter Encounter No. 1, featuring Norma Winstone and Kit Downes
Livestream from Oak Gable Studios
First streamed 06/12/2020
Tim Garland – tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Norma Winstone – vocals
Kit Downes – piano
This event was the first in a series of three “Winter Encounters”, an online concert series devised by Tim Garland and recorded and filmed at his home studio, Oak Gable Studios.
This initial encounter teamed Garland with vocalist Norma Winstone and pianist Kit Downes to create a cross-generational unit featuring three of the most consistently creative musicians on the British jazz scene.
The performance was filmed in October 2020, just before the second Covid lockdown.
In his spoken introduction Garland emphasised just how enjoyable and satisfying it had been for the trio to work together in person, united in a spirit of adventure and musical risk taking.
Originally the plan had been to hone a set featuring new material, including a song freshly written for the project by Garland, but the need to complete the session quickly, before the impending lockdown, saw the trio focussing on more familiar material. Much of this was drawn from Winstone’s repertoire, with four of the six selections featuring her own lyrics.
Garland spoke glowingly of the depth and quality of Winstone’s words. Although he was previously familiar with Winstone’s work he had never actually performed with her before this session, and he spoke of the joy and the emotion that he experienced from seeing these lyrics being sung by their author at such close quarters.
Winstone and Downes had worked together before, having played a series of concerts in Scotland with guitarist Mike Walker in March 2020, just prior to the initial Covid lockdown.
The reeds / voice / piano format is a particular favourite of Winstone’s and can be heard on such classic recordings as “Somewhere Called Home” (ECM Records, 1986), featuring pianist John Taylor and saxophonist/clarinettist Tony Coe. She has also recorded a series of albums for ECM in the company of Glauco Venier (piano) and Klaus Gesing (reeds), among them “Distances” (2007), “Stories Yet To Tell” (2010), “Dance Without Answer” (2013) and “Descansado” (2017).
Garland was keen to stress that this trio wasn’t a regular working band and that this was essentially a spontaneous encounter. Nevertheless the group members found common ground in the music of the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor (Winstone’s former husband) and the great American guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Ralph Towner.
Winstone had been a member of the fondly remembered Azimuth trio, alongside Taylor and the late trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler. That group also recorded a series of albums for ECM, including “Depart”, a 1979 collaboration with Towner.
Meanwhile Garland had worked with Towner in 1995, as part of a group also featuring Taylor and bassist Mick Hutton.
For his part Downes had been taught by Taylor, a musician who remains a strong influence on the younger man.
The performance began with a rendition of the Towner tune “Celeste”, written for his then young daughter, and with a lyric subsequently added by Winstone and sung from the point of view of a new parent. Garland had played the tune with Towner, Taylor and Hutton back in ‘95.
Winstone’s supremely flexible vocalising included both wordless melody lines and the fluent delivery of her own words. Similarly fluent and lyrical solos came from Garland on tenor saxophone and Downes at the piano. Downes’ classically inspired lightness of touch on the Studio’s magnificent Yamaha grand piano was sometimes reminiscent of his former mentor Taylor. Following his recent excursions on electric keyboards and organ with The Golden Age of Steam it was good to be reminded of just how brilliant an acoustic pianist Downes can be, both as a soloist and as an accompanist. In this ‘chamber jazz’ trio without bass or drums, his playing was at the heart of the music throughout.
Although Garland was hosting the event at his own studio he was keen to emphasise that this was very much a trio of equals. With this in mind the individual members took it in turn to announce the tunes, with Downes introducing John Taylor’s “Fly The Wind”, and again emphasising the importance of “making music with people in the moment” following a long period of isolation. “Fly The Wind” had been played by Downes, Winstone and Walker on those Scottish dates in March and again featured Winstone’s evocative lyrics, this time with a sailing / seafaring theme. Garland was featured here on bass clarinet and impressed with his fluency and agility on the instrument as he shared the solos with Downes at the piano, and Winstone with a wordless vocal episode.
In 1993 Winstone travelled to Los Angeles to record the album “Well Kept Secret” with a trio led by pianist and composer Jimmy Rowles and featuring bassist George Mraz and drummer Joe LeBarbera. The recording featured a version of Rowles’ most famous composition “The Peacocks”, but with Winstone’s lyrics added and retitled “A Timeless Place”. The piece has since become a staple of Winstone’s repertoire and she announced it here, explaining that following the recording session Rowles had phoned her, after taking advice from Johnny Mercer’s lawyer, to tell her to change the title and re-register it, which is what they did.
As Winstone observed Rowles’ composition is a “fantastic piece of music”, and one that has been recorded many times in an instrumental format by a hugely impressive gallery of jazz artists from around the globe. As “A Timeless Place” it becomes, if anything, even more “fantastic” with the beauty of Rowles’ famous melody perfectly complemented by the supremely evocative imagery of Winstone’s poetic lyrics, which include references to the peacocks of the original title.
The trio’s performance was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Downes, whose sensitive and sympathetic playing was the perfect foil to Winstone’s peerless singing of her own lyrics, combining deep emotion with an effortless gracefulness. Garland’s subtly probing soprano saxophone served to add extra colour and nuance to an intensely beautiful performance.
Garland then announced a second Ralph Towner tune, titled “The Prowler”, and promised a “more mysterious vibe”. This also featured a Winstone lyric and saw Garland continuing on soprano, adding a nocturnal feel to the sinister lyric, a “portrait of a prowler”. Underpinned by Downes’ shadowy piano chording Garland’s soprano solo took on a slinking, furtive, feline quality, while the pianist’s own solo made allusions to the blues, reminding this listener of Downes’ admiration for early blues musicians such as Skip James.
In addition to Taylor and Towner another musician whose life and work had touched all the members of the trio was the late Kenny Wheeler. Wheeler’s best known composition “Everybody’s Song But My Own” has become something of a modern day standard and it was performed here with Winstone singing a lyric added by Jane White. Needless to say Winstone made the words very much her own, and her rapport with Downes, during an extended introductory passage was exceptional. Garland then soloed on lightly dancing soprano, before eventually handing over to Downes. Winstone then demonstrated her extraordinary vocal flexibility in a wordless episode that saw her adventurous melody lines answered by the trill of Garland’s soprano.
The trio concluded with a version of the much played standard “Everything I Love”, written by Cole Porter. I regularly hear this performed as an instrumental, so it was good to hear the rarely aired lyric, and particularly so when it was being sung by such a peerless performer as Norma Winstone. This ended the set on a pleasingly upbeat note and included an extended tenor sax excursion from Garland, answered by the similarly inventive Downes at the piano.
This had been a superbly intimate set from an exceptional trio, whose already impressive rapport seemed to become deeper and more profound as the performance progressed.
The audio and visual quality was excellent and the feature was shot in an almost semi-documentarry style with ‘talking head’ narratives and tune announcements from all three musicians and with the performances punctuated by candid ‘fly on the wall’ snippets of rehearsal footage.
Recording & Filming Credits;
Mixing – Dan Hayden
Tape Op – Joe Garland
Filming & Editing – Andrew Lawson
Two more ‘Winter Encounters’ are due to take place during December 2020, these being;
20th December – Tim Garland, Liane Carroll & Jason Rebello
27th December - Tim Garland, Ayanna Witter-Johnson & Jason Rebello
I intend to publish reviews of these performances in due course, and on the evidence of the quality of this first ‘Winter Encounter’ both are strongly recommended.
Garland plans to extend the series into 2021, pending a return to some degree of ‘normality’.
More information at;
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