Featured Album – Icarus – The Paul Winter Consort

Paul Winter is an alto and soprano saxophonist from Altoona, PA who started playing sax in the fourth grade, gravitating into jazz. He has been releasing albums since 1964 and is a seven-time Grammy Award winner. According to Wikipedia:

“Winter formed a jazz sextet, which won the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival and was signed to Columbia Records by the legendary John Hammond, who produced seven albums for the group on that label. In 1962 the Paul Winter Sextet was sent by the U.S. State Department on a six-month goodwill tour of twenty-three countries of Latin America.

The success of this tour led to an invitation by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to play at the White House. The Sextet’s performance in the East Room on November 19, 1962, happened to be the first ever jazz concert in the White House.” (Italics mine.)

But as good a jazzman as he is, Winter – with his Paul Winter Consort –  is probably best known for being one of the early purveyors of what might best be dubbed new age or world music. The Consort was formed in 1967 but didn’t really hit its stride until the early ’70’s. With his frequent world tours and his early environmental leanings – he played the saxophone to whales! – early on he became an environmental activist.

Paul Winter met producer George Martin who, one assumes, was looking for something to do after the demise of the Beatles. Martin helped the Consort get out of the studio rut and into a rented house by the ocean. In that space, their creative talents produced the album, Icarus, which Martin was later to describe as the “finest album I’ve ever made.” (High praise indeed.)

This is one of those albums that creates a certain mood and rewards listening in one sitting. Wikipedia’s description of it as chamber jazz and world fusion is as good as any.

The title song, “Icarus,” has become a jazz standard. It was written by Ralph Towner, who – while best known for guitar – also plays piano, synthesizer, percussion and trumpet. Beautiful song. Close your eyes – and listen:

Not sure how to describe the second song, “Ode to a Fillmore Dressing Room.” With its combination of bass, cello, acoustic guitar and sitar, it still somehow manages to have a Spanish feel to it. Written by cellist David Darling.

The final song, “Minuit,” isn’t really representative of the jazzier sounds of the rest of the album. But it’s a perfect album-ender and it has an all-inclusive sound that’s very generous and moving. The two things I’ve read about it is that it’s a traditional number from Guinea, West Africa and – according to the credits on the album – either is a Bach tune or is inspired by one:

Consort members Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless (oboe, bass clarinet), Glen Moore (bass), and Collin Walcott (sitar, tabla), formed the band Oregon in 1971. Wolcott died while on tour back in 1984.

Amazingly, Towner and McCandless are still with the band. Oregon is still very much active and, per their website, will be releasing their 30th album later this year. Their sound these days is pretty jazzy.

The Paul Winter Consort are also very much active, touring and recording. Per their website:

Since 1980, Paul and the Consort have been artists-in-residence at the world’s largest cathedral, New York’s St. John the Divine, where they have presented over 100 special events, including the annual Winter and Summer Solstice Celebrations, Carnival for the Rainforest, and their ecological mass, Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, which is performed annually each October as part of the Feast of St. Francis.

Musicians on Icarus:

-Herb Bushler – Fender Electric Bass
-David Darling – Cello, vocals
-Paul McCandless – Oboe, English Horn, Sarrusophone (Contrabass), vocals
-Ralph Towner – Classical guitar, 12-string, Steel-string, piano, Organ, Bush Organ, Regal Organ, Vocals
-Paul Winter – Soprano Saxophone, Vocals
-Collin Walcott – Congas, Tabla, Mridangam, Surdo, Drums, Kettledrums, Bass Marimba, Sitar

14 thoughts on “Featured Album – Icarus – The Paul Winter Consort

  1. Paul Winter is the greatest “well-known secret” I know of if you follow me.When this does get into your listening place in the queue, suggest an after-work, late-night wind-down session when you have 45 minutes or so. Glass of wine, beer, etc. It’s complex music yet soothing. Not an easy feat I think.

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  2. I’m familiar with Winter, and most of the others, despite not being a big New Age music fan. I’ll have to look into the “Icarus” album. Winter’s still committed to environmental causes and is a member of MUSE (Musicians United to Sustain the Environment).

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    1. You know, the MUSE thing rang a bell with me. That’s the group of musicians that did the No Nukes concert way back when. I thought that was one and done. I take it they’re still around. If so, they’re awfully low-key. This is the first I’ve heard of them in years.

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      1. Oops, different MUSE! You’re right, there was a MUSE for the No Nukes rallies, but that acronym stood for “Musicians United for Safe Energy.” This newer MUSE is more pro-environment than anti-nuke, and they’re extremely small. Mainly unknown Indie artists, but a few “names” like Winter, John McCutcheon, Country Joe McDonald, and (I think) Tom Paxton. They made a couple not-for-profit CDs, if you have a taste for some Paul Winter rarities.

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  3. Have one of his album in the ‘wait’ pile. I think I may have discarded a couple of others back in the day. Cocktail baroque, for sure, but pleasant enough in the right mood.
    Of the Windham Hill artists, Shadowfax are probably my favourite. Do you know them Jim?

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    1. I hadn’t thought about any of these guys in years. I heard a mention of the mythological character Icarus and I said, “Oh, yeah. Paul Winter.” So that sent me on my own (re-discovery.)

      Funny story: Given his environmental leanings, Winter tends to attract the environmental/granola/tree-hugger set. We went to see him way back when. But the only car I could get my hands on at the time was a honkin’ big Oldsmobile Delta 88. Imagine my embarrassment when I drove up to the outdoor show in this big fucking tank. Everybody else was in some toy car. Felt like a real a-hole. 😀

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