This renewed interest in the music of Azimuth can only be a good thing and goes to show just how far ahead of their time they were, or just proves how enduring and timeless good music really is.

ECM 1099 / 588 0541 John Taylor (piano, synthesizer); Norma Winstone (voice); Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn)

Recorded March 1977

It is interesting to note how integrated the trio sound for a group that didn’t fit. By that I mean that the group weren’t easy to categorise, and more that forty years after Azimuth was released they are still uncategorisable.

A unique time in British jazz when musicians seem to be in and out of each other’s groups it was inevitable that the paths of these three musicians had not just crossed but became inextricably entwined in musical relationships that would last a lifetime.

At the time Azimuth was formed, Norma Winstone and John Taylor had been working as a duo and in various bands together for some time. Canadian born Wheeler had settled in London in the 1950’s and was well versed in the talents of Winstone and Taylor individually and collectively, but it took the intuition of producer Manfred Eicher to add the trumpet and flugelhorn of Wheeler to the established duo to form a trio that would produce a minimalistic chamber jazz like no other.

In fact there has not been anything quite like Azimuth since, and the re-issue of the trio’s debut album is most welcome. Taylor’s insight and ingenuity as an improvising pianist to utilise a synthesizer in such an imaginative way plays a massive part not just in the music heard here, but paved the way for others, including fellow Brit John Surman, in just how creative the advancing analogue technology could be.

It seemingly goes against the grain for musicians familiar working with harmonic progressions and complex chord changes in their music to embrace synthesizers that would be used to loop never ending motifs, and from this create both composed and improvised music that could move and develop freely without being constrained by the repetitive loops.

In the hands of these three musicians, the music was often minimalistic but appeared to offer up endless possibilities. Space plays a big part in the music but would be filled when needed. Even when based very freely on previously tightly arranged structures, as on Taylor’s composition ‘O’, the trio are able to break away from convention and preconceived ideas. This and the title track made use of Winstone’s gift for using her voice wordlessly, with ‘Azimuth’ also using overdubs to create a choir that brought another dimension to the group’s music. Kenny Wheeler also gets in the action with the all too brief ’Greek Triangle’ which was originally written by John Taylor for his Octet.

It is not until ‘The Tunnel’ that opened side two of the LP that we hear Norma working with lyrics. The piece begins with an extended solo piano introduction before an synth ostinato enters and Norma’s voice is gently entwined with the piano and electronic instrument. Wheler’s trumpet is also pitted against the backdrop of the synthesised sound and the phrases stand in stark contrast requiring both space and Winstone’s voice to establish a dialogue.

The closing ‘Jacob’ is the most songlike composition with Taylor’s piano setting the mood and the overdubbed choir and trumpet of Kenny Wheeler creating a suitably sparse environment for Winstone’s lyrics.

It appears that there is a growing interest of late in the music of this groundbreaking trio, with rapper Drake using an excerpt from ‘The Tunnel’ on a track from his 2023 album For All The Dogs. This renewed interest in the music of Azimuth can only be a good thing and goes to show just how far ahead of their time they were, or just proves how enduring and timeless good music really is.