Paul Winter lives for two things, the environment and music, although he would say that they are the same thing. “For me, music implies something more than just the artistic combination of sounds,” he patiently explains. “It has to do with a whole way of living, that’s musical, that’s harmonious, that’s resonant with the earth, with the lineage of our species and the lineage of the whole planet as part of the universe.”
That’s become a comfortable cliche for many New Age artists who drape their music in chirping birds and babbling brooks and attach themselves to ecological themes. But Winter has been living this life for four decades, and turning 70 in August he shows no signs of abating.
This 1971 album put the Paul Winter Consort on the map. It was produced by George Martin and the title track was written by Ralph Towner. It layed out the Paul Winter concept of mixing classical, jazz and world music in an improvised chamber music modality. The band included cellist David Darling and 3 of 4 members from Oregon, guitarist Towner, oboist Paul McCandless and percussionist and sitarist Collin Walcott. When you start with these musicians, how can you go wrong?
Paul took his musicians on rafts down the Grand Canyon and the results were the best of his environmental recordings. At once more expansive and more intimate, it features key performances from percussionist Glenn Velez.
Paul does performances for the Summer and Winter Solstices. Echoes produced their first Summer Solstice radio broadcast from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Journey with the Sun draws from a live performance of the Summer Solstice. Paul was still infatuated with Celtic music at the time, and that’s here, but this has a more eastern flavor courtesy of Armenian wild man, Arto Tuncboyaciyan. His ecstatic singing pushes Winter to be even more adventurous than usual. Stalwarts like keyboardist Paul Halley and cellist Eugene Friesen are there as are some special guests, including Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart bringing some electronic percussion into the usually acoustic Paul Winter Sound.
You can keep all the whale and wolf recordings Winter has made. Just give me the deep meditations and Rocky Mountain environments of Prayer for the Wild Things. Paul sets his musicians in solos and duets with pristine environmental sounds.
If you have any doubt about Paul Winter being a wonderful soprano saxophonist, check out his solo improvisations over Grand Canyon environments on Canyon Lullaby. His keening wail cuts into the spirit of the landscapes for which he’s so attached. And he knows how to let echo enhance his sound.
These are my picks, the Paul Winter albums we keep going back to every year on Echoes. You can hear some of his music tonight as we feature Paul Winter Then & Now, but you’re likely to hear him anytime on the show.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))