Norma Winstone and Will Bartlett, The Soundless Dark, Jellymould Jazz *****

An aubade in so many senses: Albums such as The Soundless Dark do not come along every day. A late period classic in Norma Winstone's career - just as moving an album of the great singer's as 2010's Stories Yet To Tell especially on that wonderful …

Published: 3 Apr 2023. Updated: 13 months.

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An aubade in so many senses: Albums such as The Soundless Dark do not come along every day. A late period classic in Norma Winstone's career - just as moving an album of the great singer's as 2010's Stories Yet To Tell especially on that wonderful album's 'Just Sometimes' and hearing Winstone sing in the flesh at the memorial service in Paddington for her late Azimuth colleague Kenny Wheeler in the autumn of 2014.

An intimate literary journey inspired by the great English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) it is fitting that to so very many of us one of England's very greatest jazz singers whose work as a lyricist is itself exquisite (notably for lyrics to Jimmy Rowles classic 'The Peacocks' transformed into 'A Timeless Place') matches and chimes in so many ways: the essential rain spattered English melancholia, particular take on the blues and that city darkness often explored in modern jazz and always made into a faraway quality as ancient as valley and brook.

Accompanied by pianist composer Will Bartlett - think a playing style akin to such birds of a feather as John Turville, Tom Hewson or most obviously gleaned from the great John Taylor, Richard Fairhurst - and who has written the vast majority of the pieces to Larkin's poetry - saxophonist Tony Kofi also features opening for example 'First Sight.'

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Winstone, now 81, her voice as strong and expressive as your best imagining of it, wraps her tongue wonderfully around for example the words ''wretched width of cold'' and brings a bluesy almost period Dankworthian swagger to Larkin's ''friend in specs'' poem 'Wild Oats' a big highlight of the album - ''numerous'' in the second stanza becomes ''various cathedral cities'' in a small tweak.

There's narration by Robin Ince - who presents the BBC Radio 4 show The Infinite Monkey Cage with Professor Brian Cox - on 'Reasons for Attendance,' 'Deceptions' and 'For Sidney Bechet'. The narration is most compelling on 'Deceptions' and this New Orleans homage by Larkin also features fine soprano saxophone by Kofi.

The harrowing slum meditation 'Deceptions' has an incredible vocal intensity from Winstone, lieder-like in its passion and genre vaulting capability. A poem bleakly introduced by Larkin's use of Henry Mayhew's mid-19th century scathing denunciation of prevailing social conditions in the capital, London Labour and the London Poor Larkin's incredible dictum ''suffering is exact'' sings from the pages perfectly rendered by Winstone in Bartlett's aptly plangent setting.

The album which certainly introduces us properly to the firm impressionistic and modal compositional aesthetic vision of Bartlett as a jazz composer also folds in a version of Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine's tune 'Twelve' which is on the 1999 ECM release Juni featuring Erskine, Winstone's former husband the great pianist John Taylor and the Belonging Band master bassist, Palle Danielsson.

Will Bartlett tells us that 'Twelve' is set to The Whitsun Weddings (Faber & Faber, 1964) poem 'Days': ''By pure chance the melody fitted the words almost perfectly without my needing to change anything. I had to add a couple of repeated notes, and changed the rhythm a tiny bit to fit more naturally for a singer but in essence the melody is all Erskine's. We also changed the key from C major to E flat major to suit Norma's range, and I added some extra harmonies, particularly on the last chorus. Erskine's twelve-tone melody against the 'Easy to Love' bass line (it is a contrafact on the Cole Porter song) gives feeling of bitonality, and these harmonies extend this bitonality a bit further. The same goes for the bitonal possibilities in the improvising.''

Winstone, Bartlett and Kofi play music from The Soundless Dark this summer in Winstone's adoptive home town of Deal at the Astor Theatre on 9 July

Norma Winstone, Will Bartlett and Tony Kofi, photos: press

'A DISTANT TRAIN THAT'S GOING SOMEWHERE'

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Jay Phelps interview: all about The Now

Speaking earlier today from his home in the Greenwich and Deptford area of south-east London bringing us up to speed about his upcoming album The Now Jay Phelps was busy over the weekend gigging at the Vortex jam last night across in Hackney and at …

Published: 3 Apr 2023. Updated: 11 months.

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Speaking earlier today from his home in the Greenwich and Deptford area of south-east London bringing us up to speed about his upcoming album The Now Jay Phelps was busy over the weekend gigging at the Vortex jam last night across in Hackney and at singer-pianist Theo Jackson's Hidden Jazz Club in Waterloo. 'Finding Centaurii,' the trumpeter says speaking of our new track-of-the-week from his upcoming Platoon/Black Lives in Music release is sci-fi like in its explanation. The constellation quest is to ''find beings from the Alpha Centauri, able to produce a signal to come to earth.''

Inspired the Canada born long time Londoner says looking from his balcony at home he ''sees planes in the night, 20 planes in the sky - in my mind - finding centurii in the mystical category - the musical you.''

Then there's another track 'The Malleables' - a ''meta track'' he explains. ''We as the band were jamming on that song: we were malleable at the time.''

As for 'Sanctuary' (not the Miles Davis Bitches Brew composition in case you were wondering) but an original inspired it emerged from a Corona time working title 'Screw Corona' type melody a saxophonist friend of his who goes under the moniker Kate Deal on Instagram created. The sanctuary Jay explains ''kind of resonated. We felt like we were in our sanctuary, homes, that time.''

Locking in on the upcoming album - personnel include pianist Nicola Guida, guitarist Tom Ford, bass guitarist Menelik Claffey, vibes player the incredible David Mrakpor, flautist Ruta Sipola, drummer Jack Robson and percussionist Jansen Santana. Standout track 'Through the Clouds' came during a long on-hold wait for the tax people HMRC - eg hearing this ditty - that Jay transcribed and transformed recreating the frantic riffery that was playing down the phone on hold for that hour and a half duration. It is to be the next single - and is probably the catchiest thing on this very fine record that reaches out beyond jazz but also easily connects with even the approach of grand fromage Euroclubber favourite Erik Truffaz who is that bit more obviously Milesian.

The album title track stems from 41 year old Jay's ''love of baile funk'' - Brazilian funk which he demonstrates with a vocalised ding of a cha-cha-CHUNG: ''I thought I'd utilise that half time but double time at the same time sound juxtaposing Detroit four-to-the-floor house. It sounded so right now, the sound of now.''

Jay plays a handcrafted Eclipse trumpet and has been playing the same Luton Leigh McKinney-founded brand since he was 19. He uses AMT wireless clip mics when he needs to and in terms of mutes uses a classic Harmon for example on 'Through the Clouds.'

Beyond active playing and bandleading Jay runs an agency called SoulEndvr which casts for TV, film, advertising and theatre focusing on diversity for such clients as Netflix and Amazon and will he says be the first jazz artist on the Apple owned record label and distributor Platoon partnering for the release with ex-NYJO executive Roger Wilson and his organisation Black Lives in Music.

The Now was recorded at Dollis Hill recording studio Fish Factory and recorded before Platoon came on board.

Around the London scene since bursting on to the national jazz specialist media radar in 2007 as an original member of the multi award winning Empirical whose self-titled debut was produced by Courtney Pine, Jay is incendiary live - we caught him most recently as part of Birmingham saxophonist Xhosa Cole's band playing Larry Young's Unity that had new piano star in the making Noah Stoneman channelling Hammond on a Nord C3 at the Vortex back in 2020 - and thinking back further a few more times including a decade earlier at a place Ronnie's owner Sally Greene used to run called the Waterloo Brasserie circa his debut as a leader Jay Walkin' when pizza loving bass don Tim Thornton was in his band. Final word and plenty of food for thought from this original thinker Jay feels that the next generation of jazzers are ''interested more in groove than in standards from the 1950s''. His new much clubbier direction is certainly in keeping with such non chin-stroking London jazz-reality philosophy. SG

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Jay Phelps, photo: press. The Now (Platoon) is out on 23 June