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Environmentalist Winter a Master of Music of This Sphere

December 22, 1987|ZAN STEWART

Soprano saxophonist Paul Winter is often cited as one of the founding fathers of New Age music. But for him the association is off the mark.

"I never felt anything connected with New Age, and I still don't," Winter said over a vegetarian lunch in Santa Monica.

"If they connect me, it's because part of (the Paul Winter Consort's) music has been quiet and acoustic for 20 years, and many people think it's the original New Age music. But really (acoustic music) has been going on for a thousand years. Most people's frame of reference doesn't go much before the '60s and electric music is pretty much what they knew."

Winter would rather think of his offerings--which blend jazz, classical, Brazilian, African and other world musics--"as Earth Music, music that celebrates the whole earth, its cultures and creatures." But, he admitted, "I don't care what people call it as long as they listen."

The saxophonist, who makes his first Los Angeles appearance in five years tonight at Royce Hall, has long been known for his environmental concerns--such as the preservation of such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon or such species as wolves and whales.

Still, he said, he and his cohorts are primarily "mad music makers . . . that's our thing. So if one of our albums happens to relate to some environment in the world or creatures that we love, that's because that's part of our life. It's still the musical inspiration that drives us."

Winter's latest effort, "Earthbeat" (Living Music), is an invigorating collaboration between the Consort--which features cellist Eugene Friesen, percussionist Glen Velez and guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, among others--and the Dimitri Pokrovsky Singers from the Soviet Union.

"The Singers are one of the most renowned, and perhaps most popular, vocal groups in Russia," said Winter, who has made nine trips to the Soviet Union. "They sing ancient Russian village music to which we've added our feeling and a whole battery of Afro-Brazilian percussion. It's a very tribal sound--some of these tunes are hundreds, even thousands of years old. Most people who hear it think it's African or American Indian music. They're surprised these people are Russians."

The project came about when Soviet jazz critic Leonid Pereversev arranged for both groups to do a joint concert at Moscow University in September, 1986. "It was the first time an American group had performed at Moscow University and the first time Russian and American groups appeared in concert together performing original music," Winter said. "We so loved their music that we wanted to record with them, which we did last March in Moscow." Additional Consort recording was done in New York in April, May and June, to which the singers' voices were later overdubbed. Winter hopes to bring the singers to the States for a tour next summer.

The 48-year-old Winter made it clear that the reason for the LP was "entirely (the singers') music. It wasn't an attempt to make some peace album."

The Consort's Los Angeles performance will afford Southlanders a first-time opportunity to take part in its Winter Solstice program, which has been held for eight years at the group's New York City home, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. "It's our biggest event," Winter said. "In four days, we draw 12,000 people.

"It's emerged as a special kind of seasonal ritual," he continued. "It follows in the ancient solstice celebrations. As days got shorter and the world got darker, people felt a responsibility to do something to make sure the sun would come back, so they built fires and danced and brought green living things into their homes. We play some music that's seasonal, such as 'The Dance of Golden Bough,' which is mistletoe, which is a symbol of forgiveness. There are just some beautiful sentiments related to the season. I find in America this seems to be a time when people's hearts come alive, and to see that on a national scale is pretty exciting."

And while Winter thinks that we're living in an exciting era--"There's so much going on that's healthy"--he doesn't think there's been music "that's addressed the intelligence of the times. The true music of this age hasn't been done yet. It's going to be a universal music that everyone can sing, but without lyrics.

"The point of the music isn't going to be virtuosity--rather it will encourage everyone to sing and make music. That's the real role of music--it's not entertainment where you go hear experts play. Thoreau summed it up when he said, 'The woods would be very silent if the only birds that sang were those that sang the best.' People have to sing their own song."

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