CD review

Paul Winter Consort & Friends – Everybody Under The Sun: Voices Of Solstice

Paul Winter Consort – Everybody Under The Sun: Voices Of Solstice (Volume I: The Singers)
(Living Music. CD review by Peter Bacon)

I have a very soft spot for Paul Winter. The American soprano saxophonist may have spent too much time in the New Agey end of the woods over the years, but back in the glorious late ’60s/early ’70s of my youth, he  brought me untold joy. His desire to make a new kind of music was inspired, so I learn from Wikipedia, by his hearing the songs of humpback whales (now there’s a hippy-dippy reflection of the zeitgeist if ever I heard one). The results were a different kind of jazz fusion from the one being explored by Miles and Chick and the rest: it was strongly acoustic, and the fusion was not between jazz and rock, but between jazz and what would a couple of decades later be gathered under the marketing umbrella of world music. Oh, and throw in a bit of early classical music and traditional folk for good measure…

The first release under the Consort banner, 1968’s The Winter Consort, included, for example, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, a Hungarian peasant song in 7/8, one of Villa Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras, a koto tune and a 13th-century Italian dance. The instrumentation was a step away from synths and overdriven electric guitars too, including oboe, classical guitar, cello, flute and percussion. But it was 1970’s Road that really consolidated the sound and style of the consort. Winter on soprano, Paul McCandless on oboe, Ralph Towner on guitar and piano, David Darling on cello, Glen Moore on bass and Colin Walcott on tabla and percussion. As can be seen from this line-up, not only was this the beginning of the quartet Oregon, but it contained a strong element of the ECM ethos (and roster) long before ECM. Road contained what would become the Consort’s most famous song, Ralph Towner’s Icarus.

But enough of this nostalgia… Winter has, since 1980, been artist-in-residence at the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, and he presents a concert there every winter solstice. This disc takes recordings from down the years and presents them over two discs with some kind of cohesion. There are singers and players from the U.S., England, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Mali, Bulgaria, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Armenia, Russia and Tibet, and they include Gary Brooker, Pete Seeger, Renato Braz (whom I  discovered via a Winter-produced album a few years ago), Luciana Souza, Ivan Lins, and Arto Tunçboyacian.

As is the nature of such compilations, there are hits and misses: the Gospel singer Kecia Lewis-Evans milks every vocal nuance of The Sparrow with such fervour I fear the tiny bird is squeezed of all life and left a limp pile of feathers. And if Susan Osborn‘s rendering of John Lennon’s In My Life (this was at the first Winter Solstice concert, just ten days after Lennon had been murdered not far away) is similarly overwrought, then Gary Brooker’s interpretation from 2016 restores the song’s mood of reflection.

And one can always rely on the Brazilians to bring a more restrained classiness to the proceedings. Souza’s Luiza is exquisite, Lins manages to be both touchingly vulnerable and celebratory on Lua Soberama and Braz is regal on Desenredo. Add in Seeger both looking for the silver lining and upholding the right of protest with How Can I Keep From Singing, and the always welcome Jim Pepper anthem Witchi Tai To (here sung by Apache John-Carlos Perea) and there is enough to keep even the curmudgeonly solstice celebrant happy.

There may be rather too many sumptuous synth cushions linking the singers but Paul Winter’s soprano soars throughout like a beam of moonlight in the darkest night of winter. I’m rather looking forward to 2020’s Volume II: The Players.

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