Pastoral, reflective, somehow wise, Westerly is the first appearance on record of this chamber jazz ensemble led by pianist Nikki Iles and the grande dame of British jazz vocals, Norma Winstone, and on which they are joined by Polar Bear saxophonist Mark Lockheart, The Impossible Gentlemen guitarist Mike Walker, double bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren who this year surfaced to great effect in stand-out hard bop band Bunch of 5.
Recorded as live on a human scale as befits the nature of the music in the Lake District over a couple of days of late-November 2013 and dedicated to the memory of Winstone’s long time musical colleague and friend Kenny Wheeler, songs include a version of Ralph Towner’s ‘A Breath Away’ that Norma Winstone has written lyrics to. Winstone’s lyrics also adorn Nikki Iles’ melody ‘Under the Canopy’ and the title track plus the atmospheric samba ‘Tideway’ named after Winstone’s house in Deal, and another Towner song, the playfully alert ‘The Glide.’
A very lovely stately version of Paul Simon’s ‘I Do It For Your Love’, a free improv expansive treatment of John Taylor’s ‘O’, that featured on the Guildhall Big Band album Pure and Simple released in 2007, and a song that might well be manna for Joni Mitchell fans – a finely judged version of the lesser known Rainer Werner Fassbinder-inspired ‘Two Grey Rooms’ Winstone beautifully accompanied by Walker – also find their way in. Nikki Iles’ ‘High Lands’, inspired by the English romantic novelist Mary Webb, as the title track partly is as well, again Walker prominent breaking loose, and Steve Swallow’s waltz with its wry witty lyrics of an observer looking down from a tall buidling on people going home, ‘The City of Dallas’, complete the album.
Mike Walker, above left, James Maddren, Norma Winstone, Steve Watts, Nikki Illes and Mark Lockheart
Bittersweet and sometimes sad, but just as often inspiring, infused with a sense of lost love notably on the ecologically themed ‘Under the Canopy’ and the sumptuous treatment of the Paul Simon song, the band displays a a lot of mutual understanding and finds plenty of space to elaborate cogent responses to the vocals, Iles’ Bill Evans-like forays well complemented by rhythm-like noises off or the floating deftly gauged solos notably of Lockheart whose bass clarinet lines on ‘Under the Canopy’ are a perfect foil to the soft dreamily involving Winstone vocal. Stephen Graham
Printmakers play Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton on 9 May with further touring later in the month and in June. The album itself is released on 11 May, and an official launch during release week is to be held at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on 14 May