Paul Winter Consort,
Spanish Angel
(Living Music, 1993)

Recorded live during a concert tour of Spain, Spanish Angel features Paul Winter (soprano saxophone), Eugene Friesen (cello), Glen Velez (percussion), Rhonda Larson (flute), Eliot Wadopian (double bass) and Paul Halley (piano).

Not only does the enthusiastic audience response enhance the tracks overall, but the live performance provides some one of a kind tracks as well. "Sunday Night in Salamanca," is one such piece. On this track, recorded at Teatro Breton in Salamanca, the musicians play "whatever comes into [their] collective imaginations." Starting with a rippling run on Larson's flute and some growls from the bass and taps from the percussion, the piece slowly develops as the piano chimes in gently. The soprano sax picks up the theme, blending beautifully with the flute. It's remarkable testament to the unity of the Consort. Similarly, "Alemer’a Duet" is an improvised piano and cello duet between Halley and Friesen recorded at the Teatro Cervantes in Alemer’a.

Three themes composed for a recorded narrative of The Man Who Planted Trees are spread out over two tracks. The first track, "Suite from The Man Who Planted Trees," incorporates "Ballad of the Trees," a lovely duet between soprano saxophone and cello, with Halley's piano runs rippling below the theme, and "The Tree Planter," a majestic celebratory piece in which Larson joins in with Winter and Friesen. The third theme, "Oak Theme," begins the next track, a minor melody beginning on the flute which leads into "Todo Mundo," a joyful piece with a Brazilian beat.

Other tracks include the lush, singing "Fare Well," the sprightly title track "Spanish Angel" and the smoothly flowing "Winter's Dream." Bird calls punctuate "River Run," while Halley's piano and Larson's flute evoke a mountain meadow in "Montana." "Appalachian Morning" has a lively syncopated rhythm underscored briskly with percussion, then flowing into a smooth melody that leads back to the original theme. At the conclusion of the driving, spinning "Dancing Particles," the audience beings a 6/8 clapping rhythm, which sets off the improvised "Blues for C‡diz," featuring gutsy -- and unusual -- vocals from Larson.

The musicianship is superb. The harmonies are pure and balanced and each musician both shines and integrates him or herself into the music. Winter's signature saxophone never hogs the spotlight or overrides the other musicians. Velez's percussion and Wadopian's bass are crisp and precise, adding the right amount of support. Halley's performance on the piano is heartfelt and expressive while Larson's flute soars exuberantly. Finally, Friesen's cello seems to sing with a human voice. Together, they produce music that is far more than the sum its parts.

For original music with texture, polish and class, make a pilgrimage to your favorite CD dealer for Paul Winter Consort's Spanish Angel.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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