The historicity of this Paul Winter Sextet recording, Count Me In: 1962-1963, is significant. The performances came were honed by an ensemble that was energised by the fact that it had been hand-picked by the legendary impresario, John Hammond.
The band was coming to the end of a critically acclaimed 23-nation State Department tour that culminated in a rousing performance at The White House. And sadly, shortly after the exquisite White House performances, the ensemble became caught up in the mood of a dispirited nation after the tragic murder of its then President John F. Kennedy and it was disbanded. But the White House Concert remains one of the most enduring testaments to a band led by a musician who was growing exponentially as a composer and leader. As a side-note the band would never re-group as most of the other musicians went on to other things.
The first part of the album comprises 14 previously unreleased charts and this is followed by the historic White House performances and the music showcases a critical period in the evolution of Paul Winter as a bandleader and as a saxophonist and composer. In many respects it provides an unbroken musical timeline between the saxophonist’s earliest sextet recordings and the later Consort music. There is that same sense of celebration of the triumph of human endeavour in the bluesy performances of the Sextet and the glorious tones and textures of the music of the Consort. Winter’s legendary musicality, although in its relative nascence raises its spectacular head in the manner in which he brought the musicians together to express themselves in their unique voices. This is best described in the relationship of the trumpet and woodwinds, more especially in the manner in which Winter’s alto saxophone makes its way through the contrapuntal labyrinth that Winter has created in the music of this record. The glorious interplay of horns on charts such as “A Bun Dance,” “Routeousness” and “Count Me In” sets the tone for much of the ensemble’s music. Although it sometimes seems as if the trumpet plays a bronzed lead voice in the first-mentioned chart, this notion is quickly squashed when the band transitions into “Papa Zimbi,” a chart which appears to begin in the concert halls of Europe, but quickly and gracefully slides into the robust rhythms of Africa, before colliding with a bluesy bebop when Winter’s soaring solo is further fed by Les Rout’s baritone and Dick Whitsell’s trumpet, followed by Warren Bernhardt’s magnificent cycling of the masterful canon that is built into the heart of the tune. However it is the brilliant counterpoint written for bassist Richard Evans and drummer Harold Jones that is most captivating.
Another aspect of Winter’s music here is his latent affinity, and often obvious sense of worship at the altar of Latin rhythms, especially his penchant for all things Brazilian. The band’s sense of saudade is wonderfully captured in the aching loneliness of “Insensatez” the swaggering tones and textures of “Voce e Eu” and of course Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic “Chega de Saudade”. That Winter and the rest of the sextet are so in tune with Jobim, is probably linked to their own exquisite and earthy handling of 12-bar blues that is so brilliantly demonstrated in “Them Nasty Hurtin’ Blues” and “Mystery Blues”. But more than anything else is the manner in which this ensemble is moulded by Winter into an Afro-Brazilian band when he switches to his Brazilian doppelgänger mode. The depth of Winter’s understanding of the Brazilian palette of tones and textures and his masterful use of it on his musical canvas often makes him a kind of honorary Brazilian. In this regard, he is much like Toots Thielemans and Hendrik Meurkens. Though the latter musician came much after both Winter and Thielemans, he too is a died-in-the-wool Brazilian soul. This aspect of Paul Winter so enchanted then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy that she is said to have approached Winter after the White House Concert and asked him to tell her more about his Brazilian musical experiences.
The White House Concert itself was historic in that it was the first time any music in the jazz idiom was patronized by the American Presidency and surely that must have prepared the way for the many jazz concerts that have taken place since then. The celebratory nature of the music continues into the White House concert with the opening canticle, “Bells and Horns” and even the forlorn longing of “Saudade de Bahia,” a spectacular Bossa Nova cannot dampen the spirits of the set. Bassist Jones plays his spectacular ostinato passage in “Casa Camera” with unfailing brilliance and this sets the audience on fire so much so that it is hard to imagine the applause as being diplomatically polite. Of course this rubs off onto the musicians and Dick Whitsell’s consummate wailing on “Pony Express” and other charts is a result of the fact that the White House audience is deeply appreciative of the music of the Sextet. The gentle swing of “Toccata” is a wonderful tribute to Johan Sebastian Bach, who perfected the form of this music and suddenly turns fiery as drummer Harold Jones takes over the form made in European genteel setting and re-shaping it into a mighty Afro-American celebration.
The racy nature of the music continues from “Cupbearers” through the wonderfully humorous chart, “The Sheriff” and the dazzlingly brilliant “Suite Port Au Prince”. The multiplying moments of genius continue through to the wondrous chart “The Thumper”. It seems though, that the finest wine is left for the last as the Sextet is utterly magnificent on “Lass from the Low Countrie,” “Down by the Greenwood Side” and finally on a majestically rousing “We Shall Overcome,” that seems to mark the breathtaking optimism that had swept the United States when JFK was in office. For this and the many reasons that unfold throughout the 2 CD musical odyssey this record will remain one of the finest feasts of music released in 2012. Count Me In is a truly historic musical document that is an essential to the collector of great contemporary musical performances.
Tracks: CD 1: A Bun Dance; Papa Zimbi; Casa Camara; Them Nasty Hurtin’Blues; Voce e Eu; Insensatez; Mystery Blues; Chega de Saudade; Routeousness; Count Me In. The White House Concert: Bells and Horns; Saudade de Bahia; Casa Camara; Pony Express; Maria Ninguem; Toccata; Count Me In. CD 2: Cupbearers; Ally; The Sheriff; With Malice Toward None; All Members; Marilia; Suite Port au Prince; New York 19; Quem Quizer; The Thumper; Count Me In; Repeat; Lass From The Low Countrie; Down By The Greenwood Side; We Shall Overcome.
Personnel: CD 1: Paul Winter: alto saxophone; Dick Whitsell: trumpet; Les Rout: baritone saxophone; Warren Bernhardt: piano; Richard Evans: bass; Harold Jones: drums; CD 2: Paul Winter: soprano and alto saxophones; Dick Whitsell: trumpet; Jay Cameron: baritone saxophone; Warren Bernhardt: piano; Chuck Israels: bass; Ben Riley: drums; Cecil McBee: bass (12, 14, 15); Freddie Watts: drums (12, 14, 15); Jeremy Steig: flute (13); Gene Bertoncini: guitar (13).
Paul Winter – Official Website: http://paulwinter.com
Label: Living Music
Release date: November 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama