Paul Winter,
(Living Music, 1985)

It's a pretty cool concept for an album.

Paul Winter, inspired by his visits to the Grand Canyon, brought his Consort musicians along for a series of trips over five years. Musicians and instruments floated through the canyon on the Colorado River making music ... and, without a doubt, they found plenty of inspiration there. The result is Canyon.

The best tracks on the album are those recorded during those canyon voyages. For instance, "Raven Dance" was an improvisation by Winter on soprano saxophone, David Darling on cello and Nancy Rumbel on rattle, recorded "near mile 148" of their June 1980 excursion. The fact that we can hear the raven which inspired the tune makes the result all the sweeter.

The same general location -- and possibly the same raven -- provide the backdrop for Winter, his sax and a little bit of J.S. Bach's "Air."

Five years later, Consort member John Clark recorded an improvisation on French horn in the resonant studio chamber that is Bach's Canyon for "Bedrock Cathedral." On that same trip, Paul McCandless used his oboe near the stream and waterfalls of "Elves' Chasm." And there's more.

Less impressive to me are the tracks recorded in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Granted, the inspiration was the same, and it would have been terribly difficult for the Consort to lug Paul Halley's piano, harmonium and pipe organ along on the trip, but somehow the music seemed confined when recorded with artificial walls around it. That's no slam on the music, which is excellent -- it's more a sense of personal perception and atmosphere.

Overall, the album is a fine choice for anyone who's ever been inspired by the Grand Canyon -- or even pictures of it, for it's a trip I haven't yet made for myself. But Paul Winter and his Consort have done far better than send me a postcard; they gave me a piece of the canyon itself, to keep and hear whenever I'm in the mood.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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