The Printmakers’ album Westerly (Basho Records SRCD 46-2) has been a long time coming. Back in June 2013 the band played at the mac in Birmingham and the tracks on Westerly are familiar from that concert. Then in December 2013 came the news that an album was on the way but with a release date a full nine months in the future: September 2014. In fact Westerly ended up being recorded by Paul Allen at his Yewfield studio in the Lake District last November and officially hits the sales counters on Monday.
Is it worth the long wait. You bet! And, as if having the album to listen to at home were not enough, The Printmakers are at The Arena in Wolverhampton on Saturday evening.
Leading this all-star band is pianist Nikki Iles; on vocals is the grande dame of British jazz singers and winner of the 2015 Parliamentary Jazz Award for best vocalist, Norma Winstone; on saxophones is Mark Lockheart; on guitar is Mike Walker; on double bass is Steve Watts; and on drums James Maddren. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s pretty much the line-up of my dreams, and a band that sums up all that is finest in British jazz in 2015.
The music comes from a wide range of sources, including originals by Iles and Winstone, two examples of Ralph Towner songs given Norman Winstone lyrics, two from other jazz musicians (one John Taylor, one Steve Swallow), and two from singer/songwriters (one Paul Simon, one Joni Mitchell).
They are sung and played with a gorgeous, flowing, sinuous romanticism that has the notes gleaming, the harmonies stretching back into the shadows, the rhythms bending and shaping like the branches of trees.
Joni Mitchell’s Two Grey Rooms – a tale of obsessive love and reservation which has something of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice about its quiet tragedy – has got to be one of this songwriter’s finest moments, and I am not sure it will ever get a finer reading than The Printmakers give it: Norma Winstone’s vocal is simply peerless.
Both the title track and Tideway show what a winning combination Iles and Winstone make as songwriters (if only they were more prolific!), while John Taylor’s O shows Winstone’s supreme wordless jazz singing skill and has a particularly fine piano solo from Iles. Walker and Lockheart soar in their solos throughout. Just listen to Walker’s strings sing over Winstone and Lockheart on the title track (great little bit of banjo at its close, too!), and Lockheart’s throaty tenor on Tideway.
Steve Swallow’s City Of Dallas is a suitably wry and witty final track.
A life-enriching album for sure, and an unmissable gig to look forward to on Saturday.
- For more information and to book tickets for The Printmakers at The Arena in Wolverhampton, go here.
- Other chances to see The Printmakers in concert are: 14 May, Pizza Express, London (album launch); 29 May Wakefield Jazz, Wakefield; 11 June Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside; 12 June Yewfield Hotel, Hawkshead; 24 October Calstock Arts, Devon; 11 December The Church on the Heath, Elvetham Heath, Fleet.