Paul Winter Consort
at Lyte Auditorium, Millersville, PA
(29 April 1994)

It was a night for howling.

The Paul Winter Consort brought the power of the sun, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the ancient wonder of the humpback whale to Millersville University.

The audience was howling before Winter played a single note. They howled again after a song featured the woeful cry of a lone wolf. And they howled a third time at the end of the concert, standing and applauding like mad to draw the consort back for an encore performance.

Winter, on soprano saxophone, leads a band of earth-friendly musicians in a unique blend of jazz, folk and classical styles. The enthusiastic audience went silent as the first sonorous tones of Winter's sax flowed through the auditorium. Throughout the two-hour concert, Winter stood casually, completely at ease at center stage, eyes closed as he blew his spirit into each note. Backed by a strong trio of acoustic musicians -- Jamey Haddad on percussion, Jordan Rudes on piano and Erik Friedlander on cello -- Winter journeyed around the world in a musical tribute to Earth and nature.

In the second tune, "Lullaby from the Great Mother Whale for the Baby Seal Pups," he credited the composition to an anonymous humpback whale. The theme began in the deep as whalesong rolled across the room. As the song reverberated from wall to wall, Winter stood quietly, sax cradled like an infant in his arms, eyes again closed and a slight smile on his lips as he absorbed the sound.

It was a concert with no sound effects, no flashy lights, no big props or sets, and no synthesized sounds. There was just the acoustic musings of four devoted musicians and the recorded sounds of their chief inspirations: whale, wolf and bird. Over everything was the crisp, clear voice of the saxophone, wielded by Winter like an artist's brush. The notes from his sax swooped and dove, dipped and swayed like the animals he strives to honor. As the consort played, some of the wildness in its music seemed to swell outward through the room. Each of Winter's tunes is a celebration of nature, and he eagerly described the settings of most before starting to play.

Much of the evening's music was wrapped intimately with recorded sounds. One of the tunes, "Kursky Funk," wove the consort's sound with a Russian harvest folk song recorded by the Dmitri Pokrovsky Singers. With very strong percussion, the tune had a large part of the audience chair-dancing like crazy people. Another, also from Russia, used a chorus of pan flutes for background. "Wolf Eyes," a perennial Winter favorite, began with the resonant howl of a lone wolf. Its song was quickly picked up, imitated and embellished by Winter who, at the end, lifted his own voice in a series of howls. He invited the audience to join him in a "Howlelujah Chorus," and the packed auditorium joyfully complied.

Winter then took a break from his sax to sing "Minuit," a West African village song which used the audience as the village, and his defining anthem, "Common Ground." While touching on ecological issues around the globe, Winter brought it home during his encore with a tune dedicated to the Bush, a tract of wild land near campus threatened by plans for a bypass. "We've come almost to the end of that kind of original beauty of creation in much of the eastern United States," he said. "Guard it with your life as you would guard your children. ... We are all part of that family of life."

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Read reviews of numerous Paul Winter albums here.