Norma Winstone, vocals
Nikki Iles, piano
Mark Lockheart, saxophones
Mike Walker, guitar
Steve Watts, bass
Asaf Srkis, drums
Norma Winstone has more than a signature style: the reason her singing is immediately recognizeable is because she routinely meets musical challengesthat few others would attempt, let alone carry off with such ease and assurance. Her interval leaps, carefully contrilled diminuendos, and her way of maximizing the emotional impact of a lyric without straining the point—all these qualities and more are no less exceptional for being part of her familiar array of gifts. She also has a particularly good line in writing lyrics for established tunes, but each of theseis clearly demanding—quite particular to her unique talent. And as though that weren’t sufficient, she also supplies a marvelous vocalise to some numbers, which requires a nimbleness, range and responsiveness well beyond the demands of scat singing.
It is difficult to imagine a band better suited to showcasing Norma Winstione’s singing. Nikki Iles is a formidable band leader in her own right, but her sparkling, tuneful and attentive playing was also unshowy and never competed for the limelight with Norma Winstone. She is a musician who can’t help but shine, whatever the context.
For all of the gentleness of two sets devoted to vocals, the band packed a lot of punch, with Mike Walker blasting out impeccably musical solos, and always landing precisely for the re-entry of the rest of the band. Mark Lockheart can express just about anything that’s within reach of a saxophone, but but what was most noticeable in this performance was his close support of Norma’s vocals, whether paralleling her vocalise, underscoring the melodic line or playing choruses supportively. He had a good line in soprano saxophone, too, adding just the right note of poignancy when needed. Steve Watts on bass offered rock-solid support, while the ever alert and responsive Asif Sirkis was provided his familiar, resourceful drumming.
The end of the first set—a lovely rendition of ‘The Night We Called It a Day’—suggested that the second set might become slower, more hused and intimate. Instead, Norma and the band turned up the heat for a thrilling, hard-driving second set before leaving a very enthusiastic and satisfied audience with the gentlest of country tunes. With music of this quality, sustained over two hours, a crescendo certainly wasn’t required.