I knew nothing about Winter Consort when I spied this record at Dada Records. It was in the Jazz section and I grabbed it because its cover photo of rock reclining hippies alerted me to something interesting inside. The spread of exotic instruments on the gatefold also appealed. All Music notes that Paul Winter became one of the earliest exponents of world music when he formed the Winter Consort in 1967.
As I sat on my couch listening to this record my girlfriend came in and laughed out loud, saying that it was “drama teacher music.” I laughed too and imagined a drama teacher (who was a hippy in the sixties) rocking up to his class in track suit pants to do an interpretative dance about the pathos of the setting sun and the only guy in the class who appreciates it looks just like Napoleon Dynamite. Icarus could easily be the soundtrack to that scenario. Don’t let that put you off though; this record certainly has its moments.
The lead track – Icarus lives up to All Music’s description and comes across as hippy world music with its floaty arrangement. Better is Ode to a Fillmore Dressing Room, which I discovered is perfect for contemplating the sun dappled leaves of a pot plant. Great sitar on this track too. The Silence of a Candle is an earnest hippie minor key reflection with vocals, reminiscent of the song cycle California Saga off the 1973 Beach Boys Holland album. It’s both good and bad at the same time. The final two tracks on the first side are simply great. Sunwheel features slightly discordanent horns. It is plaintive and yearning but then has a fantastic little organ vamp (the Bush Organ mentioned on the back cover?). Juniper Bear charms with tabla and evocative classical guitar. I got up to change the side feeling impressed.
The second side begins with Whole Earth Chant – a mini epic with tabla and a host of typical jazz-fusion flourishes, mainly from various melliferous keyboards. All The Mornings Bring features more keyboard noodling, but as with the other tracks on this LP it grows on you after multiple listenings. The last two tracks are perhaps the best - Chehalis And Other Voices features obo and classical guitar over a beautifully expressive arrangement. Minuit is simply sublime with a lilting melody and massed vocals that swell and fade gently. The track comes across as an affectionate ode to the ideals of hippidom. On the third play I realized that I had once heard this track many years ago whilst driving back from a party late at night on RTRFM and it provided one of those rare moments when a track comes out of left field and provides you with exactly what you wanted to hear in that moment. Finally after all these years I got to hear it again.
This LP is notable due to the fact that George Martin produces it and it also features some top jazz musicians like David Darling, Billy Cobham and Ralph Towner. Some weird instruments are utilized – a bush organ, a contrabass Sarrusphone and a mridangam, whatever they are! Check out the photo of some of the instruments from the gatefold picture.
This is a charming record that is a little dated but should be enjoyable to anyone interested in the less explored margins of jazz fusion or even world music. Put your trust in the sun kissed hippies on the cover and track a copy down. I checked and it’s available on vinyl around the place. It will transport you back to a time about four years after its release when a bunch of punks sat around wondering just what was worse than a hippie? A jazz hippie!