Paul Winter Sextet,
Count Me In 1962-1963
(Living Music, 2012)

Many Paul Winter Consort fans probably don't realize that he was a mainstream jazz player back in the early 1960s, playing alto sax in and leading the Paul Winter Sextet, which won the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival. Taking first prize got the band signed to Columbia Records, where for the two years of the band's professional existence they cut albums and toured, including a State Department-sponsored tour of 22 countries. The culmination of the band's rise to prominence was a 1962 gig at the White House, an invitation proffered by Jacqueline Kennedy, which made them the first jazz band to play the White House. The sextet continued touring and recording until President Kennedy's assassination, an event that shook the members of the band so badly that they broke up.

Today, for the 50th anniversary of the sextet, Paul Winter has unearthed the masters from their Columbia albums and reissued some of the material in a two-CD set, which includes a part of the White House gig.

What kind of a band were they? Their music demonstrates that Winter's adventurous musical spirit was fully engaged even when he was fresh out of college. A lifelong lover of big band music, as well as a lover of bop, he fused the two together, using three horns -- trumpet, alto sax and baritone sax -- in a fusion of classical and modern jazz, including some of the hardedged East Coast bop and the relaxed and swinging West Coast cool jazz. Listening, you hear their influences -- Dizzy Gillespie is all over "A Bun Dance" and the jump blues swingers permeate "Them Nasty Hurtin' Blues," and as I said, the multiple horn attack reflects the big bands. Most of all, though, you hear some fine original playing of imaginative and still-fresh arrangements. In "Lass from the Low Country" and "Down by the Greenwood Side" you can hear hints of the Paul Winter Consort, which was still a decade in the future. And the CD closes with a gospel rush, which characterizes what is possibly the best version of "We Shall Overcome" ever recorded.

Yes, the material is 50 years old but Count Me In is in no way a nostalgia trip. It's as new and fresh as cinnamon rolls just removed from the oven.

And you can, by all means, count me in.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

22 December 2012

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