SARAH BENNETT      Reviews

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Reviews of “The Astronomer’s Guest”

Norma Winstone, 15TH September 2006

Yes I did receive the CD, but have only just managed to listen to it all. I think that it's very imaginative work. I think that you do extremely well with some of the difficult melodic lines (e.g. Nocturne's Kite). In fact that might be the only downside for me, as I find it difficult to remember many of the melodies. It's just an observation as I love strong melodies, even though I have of course sung quite "angular" things myself in the past, and have always loved a challenge, as you obviously do! I really like the way you handle the wordless songs.... very nice sound. Anyway congratulations to you both; it's good to hear that someone is trying to do something a bit different with words and music.
I find your work both interesting and imaginative, and I like the way you integrate your voice into the music.
All the best,

JAZZWISE DEC 2006/JAN 2007 ISSUE – reviewed by Peter Quinn

To say that this is one of the more unusual offerings to come my way this year would be a gross understatement. Comprising eight original pieces by pianist Chris Bennett, The Astronomer’s Guest isn’t so much leftfield as outer-spacious. Drawing from a voluminous stylistic well, with influences ranging from folk, pop and classical music as well as jazz, the music could perhaps best be described as an unlikely mash-up of contemporary British influences; the hallucinatory lyrical content of early Pink Floyd meets the trenchant individuality of Kate Bush, filtered through the musical sensibilities of Norma Winstone. It’s deeply quirky and, at times, wonderful. The album’s astronomical theme is announced at the outset as “The Girl in the Moon” drifts into your consciousness on a static synth bed. “The Celestial Toymaker” mines its very own version of English minimalism, while “Nightscape” features a wordless vocal floating ethereally over a chorale-like backdrop, conveying something of the longing and melancholia of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. The funky Latin stylings of “Nocturne’s Kite” provide a welcome foil to the otherwise glacial pace. Based on a repeating two-chord motif that rocks back and forth hypnotically, “Comet” provides the suitably other-worldly conclusion and hints at a quite different source of inspiration – classical Indian vocal music. You almost expect singer Shoba Gurtu to pitch in for a verse or two – now that would have been a coup de grace.

Comments on Willow’s Song (2001)

Norma Winstone

Dear Sarah,

Sorry not to have written sooner, but various things got in the way of my listening properly to your CD, like a trip to Cornwall for a family wedding, and a few days’ holiday there. It’s absolutely my favourite place, and I haven’t managed a visit for 3 years, so it was wonderful, even though I came back with a cold. The words to
“Wintersweet” are inspired by the place in North Cornwall where we go, Trebetherick. It’s where Sir John Betjeman is buried. Anyway, enough of this.... back to the CD. I like the cover design (which I think is important). I think that your voice has a lovely quality and is very attractive. One thing which I think would improve it is if you used more support from the diaphragm when going for low notes (like F below middle C), just a little extra ”squeeze”, and just try for a fuller more open sound at either extremes of your range. The mid-range is fine. I like the choice of songs, “Willow’s Song” is lovely, I’ve never come across that one. The group sounds good and swings nicely. I don’t know where you got the chords for “Celeste”, but tell Chris that the third bar “making their way to my mind”) should be (one chord per beat) Em11/Em over D/C#m7b5/
F#7b9. I missed hearing that movement. Overall though I thought it was lovely.

Good luck and best wishes, Norma.

Ian Carr

This is a very promising vocal album with a highly competent trio. Celeste has a beautifully delivered vocal with clear high notes. Sarah Bennett's voice is generally flexible and very expressive, and she's good on ballads and up tempo swingers, and handles the jokey Two Kites in a manic little-girl voice. However On bossa novas she tends to sound like the deadpan Astrud Gilberto, when she should be aiming to sound like herself. These shortcomings can be easily rectified because she has plenty of natural talent. I found the album generally enjoyable.

Ian Carr