Outpost of Dreams Norma Winstone & Kit Downes

Cover Outpost of Dreams

Album info



Label: ECM Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Vocal

Artist: Norma Winstone & Kit Downes

Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)

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  • 1El05:05
  • 2Fly The Wind03:11
  • 3Jesus Maria04:29
  • 4Beneath an Evening Sky03:25
  • 5Out of the Dancing Sea03:34
  • 6The Steppe05:06
  • 7Nocturne05:08
  • 8Black Is the Colour04:34
  • 9In Search of Sleep03:06
  • 10Rowing Home03:57
  • Total Runtime41:35

Info for Outpost of Dreams

Outpost of Dreams introduces a new duo. Norma Winstone, as always quietly innovative as jazz singer and lyricist, brings her vocal subtlety and poetic sensibility to new pieces by Kit Downes, and to compositions by Carla Bley, Ralph Towner, and John Taylor. The programme is completed with fresh perspectives on two traditional tunes, “Black Is The Colour” and “Rowing Home.” Throughout Downes offers elegantly phrased accompaniment and adventurous interjections. Outpost of Dreams was recorded in Udine in April 2023.

Her first ECM recording in six years finds Norma Winstone in a new duo with pianist Kit Downes. A unique artist as both jazz vocalist and lyricist, here Norma brings her poetic sensibilities to new pieces by Downes as well as compositions by Carla Bley, Ralph Towner, and John Taylor. The programme is completed with fresh perspectives on two traditional tunes, “Black Is The Colour” and “Rowing Home.”

The duo, Norma says, was “a chance thing”, a musical unit formed almost accidentally. Winstone’s regular pianist for work in Britain, Nikki Iles, was unavailable for a gig in London, “so I booked Kit. I’d never played with him before. And of course, he could play everything immediately, and amazingly. So we did a few more concerts, and I found I responded to the sense of adventure in his playing. You never know quite what is going to happen, and I love that quality.” When London Jazz News collected a round-up of greetings for Norma’s 80th birthday, she recalls, Downes wrote: “Can’t wait to jump off musical cliffs together again in the near future.” She laughs: “That’s the way we both think of it. We’ll see where the project takes us. “

For Winstone, adding words to music has most often been a matter of living with a composition until it yields up its inner message. “I feel I’m looking for words that are already in the music. Always. That’s how I work. And if the words do come, it’s as if they were always there.” The same process was focused upon the newer pieces here although Norma was also open to narrative prompts, as on “Out Of The Dancing Sea”.

Regarding this piece, Kit Downes explains: “The Scottish painter Joan Eardley used to paint the same scene from her garden, looking at the sea, many times in a row. With it always being different in some way from the light, time of day, her own mood, weather etc., even though it was the exact same view. She also used to leave the canvas outside overnight, so bits of ‘nature’ would be stuck to it. This was the inspiration for the music Aidan O’Rourke and I wrote, which in turn was also inspired by James Robertson’s short story about her [The Painter in the collection 365 Stories].” Norma takes up the tale, in her own way, in the lyrics.

“El”, which opens the album, is a piece for Kit Downes’ baby daughter. “Suddenly we see a future / Slowly rising like a fountain”: Winstone’s sensitive words and Downes’ delicate melody are further enhanced by an almost subliminal shimmering high drone - like a halo - from a Hammond B3 organ: listen closely to hear it.

The album title Outpost of Dreams derives from the final line of Norma’s text for Downes’ “The Steppe”, where Norma equates barren landscape and emotional emptiness. Dreams recur in several of the album’s lyrics, and “In Search of Sleep”, with spoken word vocal, addresses their absence.

A couple of pieces played derived from Kit Downes’ solo repertoire, one of them being Carla Bley’s “Jesus Maria”, a tune whose roots go back to the legendary 1961 edition of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. Norma wrote lyrics for Kit’s version, unaware that Carla herself had penned a set of “quite religious” words for the original way back in the last century. “What do I do now?” Winstone asked Swallow. “Use your own words”, was the sage advice. Norma’s text finds her “imagining a special person with strange powers, who seems to understand things…The words are quite vague, at least I hope they are. I was trying not to be too specific.”

“Fly The Wind”, John Taylor’s tune – which Taylor also recorded under the alternate title “Wych Hazel” - dates back “to about 1978. After John died [in 2015], I thought I’d like to do something with it, as a dedication to a guiding spirit.”

The traditional song “Black Is The Colour” seems to invite radically different treatments – famous instances including Berio’s setting for Cathy Berberian in his Folk Songs cycle and Patty Waters’ free jazz version for ESP-Disk. ECM has previously recorded the song in interpretations by Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires group and Susanne Abbuehl. The Winstone/Downes version has a classical elegance. Norma: “It’s a song I’ve always liked, but never performed before.”

“Rowing Home” is a rarer find. Here Norma adds lyrics to a Scandinavian folk tune called “Ro Hamåt”, which she learned from a late 1970s recording by arranger pianist Bob Cornford with Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe and the NDR Orchestra. The melody is a near relative of the English traditional song, “Searching for Lambs”.

“Beneath An Evening Sky”, composed by Ralph Towner, was first recorded in 1979 on Old Friends, New Friends, a few months after Towner guested on Azimuth’s Départ album, a new circle of musical influence opening up. Norma added lyrics to the stately tune long ago. And Downes takes a free and fragmentary approach to the arrangement.

Exploration of these pieces in concert has become increasingly open, linking the songs together with free improvised interludes.

Outpost of Dreams, recorded at Udine’s Artesuono Studio in April 2023, and mixed at Munich’s Bavaria Studio in January 2024, was produced by Manfred Eicher.

Norma has already recorded her next ECM album, with settings of songs by Steve Swallow. More details soon.

Norma Winstone, voice
Kit Downes, piano

Norma Winstone
Norma Winstone was born in London and first attracted attention in the late sixties when she shared the bill at Ronnie Scott’s club with Roland Kirk.

Although she was known initially for evolving her own wordless approach to improvisation, her extraordinary versatility means she is equally at home with the standards repertoire, performing with small groups, orchestras and big bands.

She joined Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick and sang with John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs and John Taylor, and worked extensively with many of the major European names and visiting Americans.

In 1971 she was voted top singer in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll and subsequently recorded her own album ‘Edge of Time‘ for Decca, which although long deleted has now been re-released as a CD on the Dusk Fire label.

In the late seventies she joined pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler to form the group Azimuth, which was described by Richard Williams of The Times as “one of the most imaginatively conceived and delicately balanced of all contemporary chamber jazz groups“.

In this setting she combines the instrumental use of the voice with words, most of which she writes herself. Azimuth has recorded several albums on the ECM label (the first three of which have been re-issued as a CD boxed set).

Their CD ‘How It Was Then… Never Again‘ was released in May 1995, and received four stars in Down Beat magazine.

Her own legendary album ‘Somewhere Called Home‘ on the ECM label is widely considered to be a classic.

In recent years she has become known as a very fine lyricist, writing words to compositions by Ralph Towner, and Brazilian composers Egberto Gismonti and Ivan Lins (who has recorded her English lyrics to his song ‘Vieste‘). She has a special affinity with the music of Steve Swallow, and has written lyrics to many of his compositions, most notably ‘Ladies in Mercedes‘, which has become a standard.

Her voice has become an important part of the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s big band, and can be heard in this context on the ECM double CD ‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles‘ which also features John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine and John Taylor.

Her CD ‘Well Kept Secret‘, recorded with the legendary American pianist Jimmy Rowles, featuring George Mraz on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, was given a four star rating in Down Beat magazine. Here Norma sings a selection of rare jazz standards, including Jimmy’s famous tune ‘The Peacocks’ for which she wrote lyrics and re-titled ‘A Timeless Place‘. This piece has since been recorded by other artists including jazz singer Mark Murphy, and The Swingle Singers.

Her CD ‘Manhattan In The Rain‘, with pianist Steve Gray, bassist Chris Laurence and special guest saxophonist Tony Coe consists of unusual and classic standards, described by Dave Gelly in The Observer as “A delectable set of songs… masterly and enthralling“.

A CD of duo performances with pianist John Taylor entitled ‘Like Song, Like Weather‘ on the Enodoc label was described by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times as “…a superb example of state-of-the-art, imaginative, virtually beyond-definition singing“.

With American pianist Fred Hersch, she recorded a CD of Fred’s compositions with her lyrics: called ‘Songs and Lullabies‘, available in the US on Sunnyside, and in England on the Enodoc label. Vibraphonist Gary Burton makes a guest appearance on three tracks.

A recording ‘It’s Later than You Think‘, with the marvellous North German Radio big band, arranged and directed by the great British writer Colin Towns, was released in Autumn 2006 to coincide with a British tour. This was followed by an album with the same band, “Here’s A Song For You” which features an interesting collection of standards and contemporary songs arranged by the iconic Mike Gibbs.

She was one of the stars of the acclaimed Gilles Peterson ‘Jazz Britannia‘ programme shown on BBC 2, from The Barbican which featured influential music of British jazz musicians from the sixties and seventies, along with contemporary jazz artists

A double CD ‘Amoroso…only more so‘, with The Stan Tracey trio and saxophonist Bobby Wellins was released on the Trio label to some five star reviews… “This is standards-reinvention as it should be done” John Fordham, The Guardian. “Winstone’s voice and Wellins’ highly vocalised tenor seem made for each other…. Sheer class” Ray Comiskey, The Irish Times.

With Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German saxophonist/ bass clarinettist Klaus Gesing she has recorded four albums for the ECM label, the first of which, “Distances” was nominated for a Grammy. Their last recording, “Descansado” consists of new arrangements of music for films and features Italian cellist Mario Brunello and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken.

Norma also works with the Nikki Iles’ group “The Printmakers” comprising some of the UK’s finest musicians.

Kit Downes
is a BBC Jazz Award winning, Mercury Music Award nominated solo recording artist for ECM Records. He has toured the world playing piano, church organ and harmonium with his own bands (‘ENEMY’, ‘Troyka’ and ‘Elt’) as well as with artists such as Squarepusher, Bill Frisell, ‘Empirical‘, Andrew Cyrille, Sofia Jernberg, Benny Greb, Mica Levi and Sam Amidon.

Kit performs solo pipe organ and solo piano concerts – as well as playing in collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger, cellist Lucy Railton, composer Shiva Feshareki, saxophonist Ben van Gelder and with the band ‘ENEMY’ (with Petter Eldh and James Maddren).

He is also currently working with violinist Aidan O’Rourke, drummer Seb Rochford, composer Max de Wardener and in the organ trio ‘Deadeye’ with Reinier Baas and Jonas Burgwinkel.

He has written commissions for Cheltenham Music Festival, London Contemporary Orchestra, Biel Organ Festival, Ensemble Klang at ReWire Festival, the Scottish Ensemble, Cologne Philharmonie and the Wellcome Trust. He also performed as part of the National Theatre production of ‘Network’ from 2017-2018, featuring actor Bryan Cranston.

He has performed solo organ concerts at the Elb Philharmonie in Hamburg, Lausanne Cathedral, Flagey in Brussels, the Royal Albert Hall in London as well as the Southbank Royal Festival Hall, Rochester Jazz Festival (US), St Olafs Minneapolis (US), Stavanger Konserthus, Aarhus Philharmonic Musikhuset, Darmstadt Organ Festival, Stuttgart Organ Festival, Laurenskerke in Rotterdam, Orgelpark in Amsterdam, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Berlin Jazz Festival, and the BBC Proms amongst many others.

He holds a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he himself studied and now teaches. He has twice been awarded 1st place in Downbeat’s Critics Poll Rising Star for Organ and Keyboard categories respectively, and his ECM records ‘Obsidian‘, ‘Dreamlife of Debris‘ and ‘Vermillion‘ have been released to much critical acclaim.

“It testifies to his world-class stature” – The Guardian

“One of the finest pianists of his generation” – Jazzwise

“Considerable chops and flowing imagination” – Downbeat

“An exceptional soloist” – Wormser Zeitung

“Kit Downes is the most impressive jazz pianist from England since John Taylor” – Hamburger Abendblatt

Booklet for Outpost of Dreams

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