Norma Winstone and Interplay show how it’s done

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When a top vocalist is in such high demand and performing in various places with local musicians, it must be frustrating not to have sufficient opportunity to rehearse, especially unfamiliar material. This was the case with JazzFM Vocalist of the Year Norma Winstone at Leamington's Restaurant in the Park. However, it is a reflection on the professionalism and ability of the artists involved that this was largely undetected by an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, and many felt privileged to have seen how jazz musicians work, resolving the occasional glitch.

After an introductory number, 'Gratitude', from bassist Adrian Litvinoff's band, Interplay , Ms Winstone started with the Clifford Brown composition 'Joyspring', and immediately demonstrated how adept she is at dealing with lyrics at a fast tempo. Tenor saxophonist Alan Wakeman took a strong solo that wouldn't have been out of place with the original Brown/Max Roach group and showed that he is well on the way to peak form following his recent lay-off. A slightly Latinish up-tempo version of Raye/de Paul's 'You Don't Know What Love Is' followed, which included an effective unison passage of horns and voice.

Litvinoff's attractive ballad 'Ode to Duke' showed what a good composer he is and Ms.Winstone dealt with it as if she had been singing it for years, creating a mood and atmosphere that trombonist Richard Baker continued, with his rich and mellow solo ending in a flurry of notes, suitably Ellingtonian. Key changes and tempo variations were used to good effect on 'Hang Around' and 'Sometime Ago', whilst the famous jazz standard, 'Body and Soul', featured the singer with just Litvinoff's bass and the piano of Neil Hunter, both adding warm and melodious solos. At times Ms.Winstone's voice seemed to display a fragility that somehow enhanced the lyrics, giving them added poignancy; at others her strength of tone gave balance and authority to them. 'Memphis Shout' was a delve into the 60s, the electric piano of Hunter laying down a soul groove and an excellent trombone solo from Baker, full of slurs and licks, had members of the audience getting up and strutting their stuff.

The extended piece of Monk's 'Round Midnight' that segued into Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke's 'Midnight Sun' caused a problem, but with Ms.Winstone taking charge and quite rightly calling a halt, the audience were then treated to a keyhole class in resolution. The musicians quickly ironed out the problem and once again underway, Hunter's inventive piano solo drew a well deserved acknowledgement from the vocalist. The evening's direction then changed with a duet between vocalist and drummer/percussionist Dave Balen on tabla. Completely unrehearsed, the two entered into a musical conversation and Eastern sound experiment, the call and response elements and their rapport having the audience enthralled, reminding us of Ms.Winstone's reputation as a pioneer in vocal improvisation. Another Litvinoff number, 'When Loves Begins', once again gave the opportunity to show how well she delivers a ballad, this time with Wakeman giving a Ben Websterish breathiness to his full sounding tenor. 'Ladies in Mercedes' (composed by Steve Swallow, lyrics by Ms.Winstone) and an encore of Monk's 'Well You Needn't' sent the audience away with the confirmation that they had witnessed a soundly cohesive unit supporting someone thoroughly deserving of the title 'Jazz Vocalist of the Year'.

– Matthew Wright

– Photo by Petra Kemper