NO ONE can accuse saxophonist and composer Paul Winter of jumping on the ecology bandwagon. Or mincing words, for that matter. In fact, he's made something of a career out of championing environmental awareness on record and on stage.
On "Earth: Voices of a Planet," his most ambitious effort yet, he casts an exceptionally wide net, spanning seven continents, the oceans and more than a few controversial issues. The Paul Halley piece "Cathedral Forest," for example, is dedicated to the plight of the spotted owl and depleted old-growth forests in the Northwest -- not a stand that's likely to endear Winter to folks who find it difficult to empathize with the owl when their jobs are at stake.
To a large degree, the tone of each composition is set by a singular "voice" -- mostly recordings of endangered or exotic species -- which then often gives way to the warmly expressive colors of Winter's soprano sax and his chamber-like Consort. By turns contemplative and stirring, if occasionally a bit too New Age-ish, the arrangements also benefit from the input of several guest musicians, including jazz saxophonist Steve Turre (who plays the Australian didjeridu here) and Brazilian singer and percussionist Thiago de Mello.
Of course, the juxtaposition of field recordings and eco-anthems is nothing new for Winter. "Wolf Eyes," an anthology of similar recordings he made throughout the '80s, has just been released and includes alternately poignant and majestic homages to the dolphin, the wolf, the Grand Canyon and other earthly delights.