Paul Winter &
the Earth Band,
Journey With the Sun
(Living Music, 2000)

Like the music or not (and there's a lot to like on this CD), Paul Winter's albums always sound great, and this one's no exception. It was recorded in the huge, reverberating space of New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and there's a lot of fine music here to fill that space, echoing and pulsating with a life of its own.

The first track, "Caravan at Dawn," sets the mood perfectly, with the soft keening of Winter's soprano sax played solo, then joined by vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, whose fiery tones paint a picture of the rising sun. When the percussion enters, the portrait is complete and masterful. Paul Winter has always been more of a world music practitioner than a new age artist, and from beginning to end, this CD supports that view. There's a ton of musical content here, most of it derived from Middle-Eastern music, and listeners will seldom zone out the way they do with a lot of the droning dullness marketed as new age.

Master uilleann-piper Davy Spillane blends beautifully with Winter's sax and Eugene Friesen's cello on "First Oasis," and "Broken Arm" is plangent and sorrowful, with Tuncboyaciyan accompanying his own vocals on the sazabo. "Mountain Wedding" is a bright and bouncy tune played by a large ensemble, modulating from key to key, and skipping through a wide assortment of rhythms. The solo voices contrast wonderfully, and the entire piece is filled with energy and drive.

Organist Paul Halley is featured on "Cave of the Winds," a reworking of "Dreamcatcher" from Winter's earlier album, Canyon Lullaby. It contains a mind-boggling organ solo guaranteed to break any lease if cranked to the max. The song flows into "Pas de Deux," a lovely duet between Friesen and Spillane. "Singing to the Mountain" is a paean to Tuncboyaciyan's late brother, who died in a plane crash. The music is filled with acceptance and balance, yet also hints of grief and anger. It's a sublime piece of music, sung in "Arto-stan," meaningless vocables nonetheless rich with meaning.

"Middle Oasis" enters that gray area in which sound is so piercing that it becomes painful. The collision of tones here creates overtones that are best heard at a low level, and such discretion may help to save the fillings in your teeth. "Yabu" gets us back to safety, and this track really shows off percussionist Mickey Hart's "RAMU," or "Random Access Music Universe," a device whose reality nearly lives up to its name. RAMU is a "computer-linked percussion instrument" that contains a collection of 300 sounds derived from voices and instruments all over the world. The sounds are pre-programmed onto drum pads, and the resulting aural illusion is wonderful. You would swear that you're hearing the actual instruments.

"Green Grass, It Grows Bonny" is a gorgeous Irish song sung by Niamh Parsons, and Winter continues to mine the Celtic vein with "Land of the Pipers" which, after a doleful beginning, becomes jolly and frolicking. "Oror Bubrik (Sleep Well, My Baby)" ends the album on a relatively peaceful and introspective note, as the sun sets once again.

If there's any caveat to be given with Journey With the Sun, it's that there's more introspection than energy here, a slight disappointment, since the sun is the source of all energy. Still, if you like your listening spiced by something different and exotic, Paul Winter always delivers sounds that will make you perk up your ears. Journey With the Sun is a musical voyage well worth making.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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