Friday, June 27, 2008

Norma Winstone at Joe’s Pub

Something about Norma Winstone seemed perfect for Joe’s Pub, the club connected to Joseph Papp’s Public Theater. In concert last night, she was warm and expressive delivering lyrics, but also witty and charming between songs, commanding the attention of what looked to be a full house with her stage presence.

Accompanying Winstone were her current working group of Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet (and sometimes soprano) with Glauco Venier on piano, heard together on Winstone’s latest release, Distances. Their musical and personal rapport came through clearly on-stage, as when both Winstone and Gesing volunteered their enthusiastic appreciation for the music of the Alpine region of Italy, which inspired some of Venier’s compositions.

As would be expected, much of the first set was drawn from Distances. Instead of sounding rote or perfunctory, Winstone’s songs rang like audio gems, polished to near perfection. Their renditions were not note-for-note from the session tapes though. The percussive introduction to “The Mermaid” seemed longer and more pronounced, giving the piece a slightly more upbeat vibe. On the other hand, their take on the Cole Porter standard “Every Time We Say Goodbye” might have been even more dramatically austere than their recorded version. For an encore, Winstone returned with Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood,” performed in much the same spirit as on the album, but proving a perfect vehicle for her nuanced in-the-moment vocal interpretation.

Maybe a third of Winstone’s selections were drawn from outside of Distances, but most still sounded quite compatible to the new release in style and tone. The closest to an exception was a nice change-of-pace duet for Winstone and Gesing that was downright bluesy.

Distances is quite a disk. Over a week after posting the review, I still find myself revisiting it, which does not often happen, even with very good albums. Usually after days of intense listening, one is ready to move onto something new. There is just something elegantly compelling about Winstone’s voice that entices repeated listening. A British subject honored for her contributions to the arts, Winstone does not often tour America, so future opportunities to hear her in an intimate performance, like at Joe’s Pub, should not be passed up.