The Berlinale has ended, but just in time for the Berlin Film Festival this new album by Norma Winstone had been released. I always had mixed feelings listening to the Norma Winstone discography. Her excursions into avantgarde or experimental music never really resonated with me, but she recorded some excellent albums, too, like her first ECM record “Somewhere Called Home” (1986) with her husband, pianist John Taylor, among them. Her new ECM record has her teamed up again with Italian pianist Glauco Venier who also arranged most of the tracks, and German soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing. (They also have recorded the 2008 album “Distances”, “Stories Yet To Tell” (2010) and “Dance Without Answer” in 2014). Added to the procedure for further spice are percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken and Mario Brunello on violoncello. The concept for her new album? Music for and from films by, among others, Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Federico Fellini, and Martin Scorcese with original music by Michel Legrand, Ennio Morricone, and Nino Rota among them. Frau Winstone has come up with six new lyrics.
There is a lot of melancholic beauty on the album, like on the main theme for Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Malena” (2000) where Norma sings “the secrets of her life, impossible to know her/Every step of the way, she’s alone”. Same applies for “Il Postino” from Michael Radford’s 1994 movie with music by Luis Bacalov. The bass clarinet beautifully winds around Norma’s delicate lyric, cushioning her, picking her up and caressing her every move. Norma more and more has turned into a Helen Merrill-sounding singer with that typical rasp and sigh, but still maintains her own very unique approach. At 76, she doesn’t need to sound like anyone else anyway. But the similarities are obvious.
Glauco’s piano is exquisitely tender, almost pixie, on the “Amarcord” main theme which Norma turns into “I Remember”. I’m not really into her singalong style on the folk-induced “Meryton Town Hall” from Joe Wright’s movie “Pride & Prejudice”, his adaptation on Jane Austen’s novel. The theme of love lost can be found in several of Norma’s lyrics, like for example in “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” from Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” (1944) where she sings “no more sun in her sky/no more joy in her heart/all of his magic/still lives in her mind”. The whole project can be exhausting if you’re not in the right mood because it’s all very somber and bleak, but it is Norma’s voice that’s able to keep me attentive and alert as she’s really sounding better with each new release. A bit fragile, but sympathetically so.