The Paul Winter Sextet – Count Me In: 1962-1963 – Living Music LMU-44, CD 1: 65:35, CD 2: 75:00 ***1/2:
(Disc 1: Paul Winter – alto saxophone; Dick Whitsell – trumpet; Les Rout – baritone saxophone; Warren Bernhardt – piano; Richard Evans – bass; Harold Jones – drums.
Disc 2: Winter – alto and soprano saxophone; Whitsell – trumpet; Jay Cameron – baritone saxophone; Bernhardt – piano; Chuck Israels – bass (tracks 1-11, 13); Ben Riley – drums (tracks 1-11, 13); Cecil McBee – bass (tracks 12, 14-15); Freddie Waits – drums (tracks 12, 14-15); Jeremy Steig – flute (track 13); Gene Bertoncini – guitar (track 13))
Ethnic fusion/new age artist Paul Winter has had a lot of firsts. His earliest group, the traditional jazz band dubbed the Paul Winter Sextet, was the first jazz group to perform in Haiti; the first to play the White House; and one of several at the forefront of both the bossa nova craze and the folk-meets-jazz movement. Yet the sextet was only slightly known on the American jazz scene and short-lived. Those who only know Winter for his eco-inclined releases from the Paul Winter Consort and his solo material, will find the 2-CD retrospective, Count Me In: 1962-1963, a surprise.
While this JFK-era music is not being touted as newly discovered or as lost sessions, there is a sense of recovered history. The in-depth booklet liner notes tell the tale: how Winter discovered jazz; the formation of his band (an early version included singer Ann-Margret Olsson, who later shortened her name and became a celebrity); how they won an important collegiate jazz competition, which led to a Columbia Records contract, which in turn led to a U.S. State Dept.-sponsored trip throughout Latin America, which included the Haitian visit; how that trip became the impetus for a performance for then-president John F. Kennedy; which led to a subsequent stateside tour which included the Newport Jazz Festival and a slot on “The Tonight Show”; and how it ended in 1964 after the JFK assassination, when the sense of optimism which permeated the Camelot era abruptly turned to numbness.
The 50th anniversary digipak set includes two discs which combine several sessions, including 14 unreleased tracks. The first CD includes studio sessions from 1962 and the heretofore unheard White House concert. The second CD has 1963 studio dates, with two versions of the sextet. Unfortunately, it is not clear how the different studio tracks on both discs fit into the sextet’s official discography, since the cuts do not follow the set order of various sextet albums issued on vinyl and later reissued on CD. Additionally, the Paul Winter Sextet issued other albums which are not referenced in this 50th anniversary package: it’s confusing. One good thing: the original, three-track recordings have been remixed for the two-channel digital age.
The 1962 version of the Paul Winter Sextet was a swinging ensemble with some future jazz stars. The personnel included pianist Warren Bernhardt (who later played with Gerry Mulligan and Clark Terry, was briefly a member of Steps Ahead in the 1980s, and currently leads his own trio); bassist Richard Evans (who later joined Ahmad Jamal); and drummer Harold Jones (who freelanced around Chicago before hooking up with the Count Basie Orchestra). The other members (trumpeter Dick Whitsell and baritone saxophonist Les Rout) went onto other things: Rout quit music to earn a PhD in history, and Whitsell later studied medicine. The opening 10 cuts on CD 1 feature a mixture of styles, from band originals such as Bernhardt’s folk-tinged “Papa Zimbi,” based on a traditional Haitian song the group learned during the State Department tour, and Evans’ vamping “Them Nasty Hurtin’ Blues,” obviously influenced by the blues atmosphere of his Chicago hometown: it’s quite interesting to hear Winter lean into a 12-bar blues, a far stretch from the whale songs he did later in his career. There is also a taste of the bossa nova during two tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the lissome “Insensatez” and the shuffling “Chega de Saudade.”
The final seven cuts present the sextet’s White House outing. The concert demonstrates how tight the Winter sextet were due to the preceding Latin American tour (23 countries in six months!), and has a program which shifts from straightforward jazz (Milt Jackson’s “Bells and Horns”) to Latin jazz overtones (Carlos Lyra’s percussive “Maria Ninguem”) and even some Lalo Schifrin/Dizzy Gillespie (a run through the “Toccata” from the Gillespiana Suite, which has an extended Jones drum solo which nearly brings down the East Room walls). Regrettably, the sound quality is tolerable at best, and appears to be a soundboard recording or something similar, with some distortion and loss of clarity.
The second CD introduces a newer sextet. Jay Cameron (a veteran who had stints with Woody Herman and Slide Hampton) replaces Rout on baritone sax; already-rising jazz luminary Chuck Israels (who was already in Bill Evans trio) replaces Evans on bass; and the always supportive Ben Riley (famous for his three-year stint with Thelonious Monk, among others) takes over on the drum kit. It is obvious the opening 11 pieces emanate from the 1963 live compilation, New Jazz on Campus, with material from concerts at the Universities of Colorado, Kansas and Kansas City, although the track order does not follow earlier releases of this live document. Highlights include Bernhardt’s orchestral, three-part “Suite Port au Prince,” a multi-tiered composition which moves from upbeat to pensive, and from earthy (Cameron’s baritone sax provides a deep-rooted tone) to breezy; two Jimmy Heath translations (a stirred-up “All Members” and a similarly-arranged “The Thumper”), which both show Winter’s esteem of Heath’s charts; and a warm rendition of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s then-recent “New York 19.” CD 2 concludes with some stray studio tunes with a different rhythm section: drummer Freddie Waits (whose long résumé goes from John Lee Hooker to Max Roach) and bassist Cecil McBee (whose credits range from Dinah Washington to Alice Coltrane and who is currently a member of the Cookers). These numbers include a folksy reading of the traditional “Lass from the Low Countrie,” with guest assistance from guitarist Gene Bertoncini and Jeremy Steig, whose mellow flute teams up nicely with Winter’s equally hospitable soprano sax. The set closes with McBee’s tender arrangement of the protest movement anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” from the Paul Winter Sextet’s 1963 album, Jazz Meets the Folk Song, which was inspired by Pete Seeger. While Count Me In: 1962-1963 is far from perfect (someone should have done better credits to denote the original music sources), it’s a valuable look back to a neglected part of Winter’s long musical life. One item also missing is the film of the summer, 2012 Paul Winter Sextet reunion shows at Chicago’s Northwestern University. Plans at one time called for a DVD of that program, and it would have made an excellent addition to this 2-CD set.
Disc 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; Bells and Horns; Saudade de Bahia; Casa Camara; Pony Express; Maria Ninguem; Toccata; Count Me In.
Disc 2: Cupbearers; Ally; The Sheriff; With Malice Toward None; All Members; Marilia; Suite Port au Prince (a. Invocation to Dambala; b. Prayer; c. Papa Zimbi); New York 19; Quem Quizer; The Thumper; Count Me In; Repeat; Lass from the Low Countrie; Down by the Greenwood Side; We Shall Overcome.
Wes Montgomery lets loose on NYC live dates from 1965…