Paul Winter,
Earth: Voices of a Planet
(Living Music, 1990)

Paul Winter is taking his listeners around the world in 12 tracks. Earth: Voices of a Planet samples sounds and atmospheres on a global scale, wrapping the whole package together with the improvisational stylings of Winter and his merry band of ecology-conscious musicians.

The first track, "Appalachian Morning," is a musical prelude which launches the album in high spirits and introduces listeners to the exuberant playing of eight regulars in the Paul Winter Consort: Winter, on soprano saxophone, Paul Halley on keyboards, Eugene Friesen on cello, Rhonda Larson on flute, Russ Landau on bass, Kenny Mazur on steel-string guitar, Paul Wertico on drums and Glen Velez on caixixi (Brazilian shakers). The same crew, minus Mazur but adding Ted Moore on percussion, does wonders with the cries and hoots of the North American spotted owl in the regal "Cathedral Forest."

"Call of the Elephant" features just that, the atmospheric rumbles of an African pachyderm. Joining Winter and friends on this one is ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, playing the kudu horn, a traditional African instrument made from the spiral horn of the kudu antelope. Wow.

"Antarctica" combines a duet between Winter's soprano sax and Paul Halley's pipe organ with recordings of the frigid wind and the calls of the Weddell sea. "Ocean Child" is another sax/keyboard duet, this time with cymbals and an orca (killer whale).

The uirapuru, or musical wren, of the South American Amazon almost sounds like a synthesized creation in the striding rhythm of "Uirapuru do Amazonas." Besides the tiny bird, the tune features Winter on sax and guest Thiago de Mello providing voice, guitar, rainstick, "jungle-mouth" drum and whistles. Then it's around the world for another bird, the Australian lyrebird, plus Winter, Velez on bullroarers and sticks, and guest Steve Turre on a low-throated didjeridu. (I've heard the didjeridu paired successfully with bagpipes before, but this was my first didjeridu/saxophone duet. Well done!)

Next, Winter reunites with several vocalists from the Dimitri Pokrovsky Singers, featured on his 1987 album Earthbeat, for the Pskov wedding song "Russian Girls." Then he's off to Germany, where he and his sax work alone with a a burbling mountain stream and a mystical European blackbird.

Wrapping up the whirlwind world tour is a final trio of tunes. Thiago de Mello, exiled from Brazil by the military government in 1966, sings a hopeful song for "Song of the Exile." John Clark on French horn and Paul McCandless on oboe join Winter and Halley for the soulful "Under the Sun," accompanies by the buzzing rhythms of Velez's bendir (desert drum). And, lastly, the album concludes with the rousing finale, "And the Earth Spins."

A bonus included with Voices of a Planet is the comprehensive liner notes. After introducing each tune, Winter describes in depressing detail the ravages on that region's environment: 90 percent of old-growth forests gone in the American Northwest, the decimation of African elephants each week and the disappearing Black Forest of Germany; as well as the ecobiological facts about Antarctic climates, oxygen production in the ocean and the biodiversity of the rain forests.

Voices of a Planet is not Winter's best use of natural sounds in his music -- look to Common Ground, Whales Alive! or Prayer for the Wild Things for better examples -- but it's certainly the most diverse sampling, and it's a very enjoyable album with some excellent new tunes. It's certainly a worthwhile addition to the collection.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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