In a career entering its sixth decade, in ensembles large and small, vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone is remarkable in delivering far more than mere expectations require. Using the discipline of understatement and economy, she has continually displayed in both her interpretive singing and original material, a trademark ability to uncover shades that become worlds of meaning and emotional power in a song. Dance Without Answer is the third recording with Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German reedman Klaus Gesing. For over an hour they present sparse, seductive, and bracing originals alongside an adventurous selection of thoroughly re-imagined covers from folk, pop, Brazilian music, cinema, and even children's television. The latter include the juxtaposition of readings of Nick Drake's "Time of No Reply" with glorious reed work by Gesing, and a voice/bass clarinet duet on Tom Waits' "San Diego Serenade." Elsewhere, "Cucurrucucu Paloma" by Tomás Mendéz is given a new English lyric by Winstone. The reading of Madonna's "Live to Tell," with its skeletal, elliptical piano, places her voice in a less dramatic context, but she draws out its lyric with precise accents that, as a result, is as resonant -- if not more so -- than the original. Winstone also adds lyrics to Ralph Towner's "Lost and Found," and presents slow-burning yet searing versions of Dave Grusin's "It Might Be You” (from the film Tootsie) and "Bein' Green" (it has been covered so often it's now a part of the American Standards book; it originated on the Muppets television program). The originals hold up equally, particularly the opening title track. Winstone's lyric is inconclusive: it's an open-ended farewell with its protagonist left to wonder about the true reason of her beloved's departure. "High Places," with its elegiac clarinet intro and wordless vocal phrasing, seemingly comes across time and space to greet the listener with implied images of empty vistas of panoramic beauty; when she begins singing her lyric, the story unfolds and the implication of the cinematic is confirmed. The set closes with a fine reading of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking," that walks a line closer to the original than Nilsson's definitive version, but highlights the poignancy in the lyric, and its protagonist's feeling of the outside and need to depart. Dance Without Answer presents this trio in excellent form, taking more chances and delivering on them without exception.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek