Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Paul McCandless and the Paul Winter Consort's Morning Sun on CD

I went through a New Age phase about twenty years ago, a temporary enthusiasm that was prompted by a girlfriend at the time. I browse through my CD collection and I can still pick out all the titles from that era. A handful of them were genuinely interesting--Mychael Danna and Robert Rich, for example--but for the most part I think of them as dated, anchor-less precursors to the more highly structured genres of electronica that would soon appear on the musical horizon and capture my interest.

This new CD from oboe player Paul McCandless and the Paul Winter Consort, Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe, reminds me of those twenty-year-old CDs. It's ambitious without being edgy, and it's full of beautiful melodies wrapped in an ethereal package rife with babbling brooks and other sounds of nature. It's an anachronism, albeit one performed with heart and skill.

McCandless has been playing with the Paul Winter Consort for 45 years, and this recording is a celebration of that partnership. He even formed Oregon with three of the consort's members, which now qualifies as the longest running jazz ensemble in the world. This familiarity creates a warm, relaxed and natural feel to this mixture of originals and covers. The trick, I suppose, is removing the temporal element of the music and enjoying it at face value--maybe you were really into this sound twenty or thirty years ago and you wish there was more of it. Maybe you'll dig the fact that the sound quality is far better than the stuff from the late '80s and early '90s--less of that digital glaze and more of that expansive and properly textured sound that's taken for granted these days.

So I don't want to come out and say that this CD isn't my thing. It's full of great ideas, strong melodies and exquisite performances. McCandless' oboe exudes an incredible amount of feeling during the slower passages, and this album clearly focuses on these impressive performances. This is, after all, a retrospective. If it was 1993, I'd probably be playing it a lot. But in 2017, I need a little more risk and a little less warm blanket freshly retrieved from a box in the attic.

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