Paul McCandless’ retrospective album examines a career worth viewing in hindsight


Oboist Paul McCandless is set to release a retrospective album of his work with the Paul Winter Consort. The album is titled “Morning Sun: Adventures in Oboe.” The group takes an unusual approach to jazz instrumentation. As a result, their work challenges jazz’s overall aesthetic.

Paul McCandless and Paul Winter: More than four decades of music history

McCandless’ personal musical trajectory began when he was a child. His parents taught music and a young McCandless took to the clarinet, oboe and saxophone starting at age nine. Even though McCandless can play other instruments, by age 13 he focused on oboe and saxophone. His study of the oboe led him to focus almost exclusively on the oboe and English horn. McCandless continued to study music throughout college and took advantage of opportunities to perfect his sound. An introduction to jazz came from his father’s record collection. The Paul Winter Consort became McCandless’ first professional touring group.

McCandless played in the Paul Winter Consort from 1969 to 1972. At first, Winter was not interested in having McCandless play oboe. He thought the English horn was a better fit for the Consort. But personnel shifts in the group created opportunities for McCandless and his oboe, and the instrument remained a part of the ensemble.

The Paul Winter Consort consisted of musicians well-versed in jazz and classical music. Some members could even perform world music. By the time McCandless had performed in the Paul Winter Consort for a few years, he had already met the group members that he would eventually form Oregon with. Oregon is the longest-running jazz band. McCandless performs with the Paul Winter Consort on occasion at their large shows. It is their commitment to the music and respect for each other that keeps the longtime friends working together.

Paul McCandless and Paul Winter: The sound of adventure

The musical musings of McCandless and Winter, coupled with their sense of adventure, have taken the performers around the globe. The highlights of their years together include: Arriving in Africa in a single-engine plane, and landing among zebra; recording in a museum situated in Japanese mountains, and McCandless playing the bass clarinet to buffalo in Colorado.

The liner notes to “Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe” are 30-plus pages long. The details and photographs are interesting, and they are what made me want to hear what the CD had to offer.

While oboes are not unheard of in jazz, they are certainly more common in symphony orchestras. The oboe’s soothing timbre works well to blend with, and re-create the nature sounds often found on the recording. The result is a soothing, but textured soundscape.

Favorites on the disc include: “All the Mornings Bring,” which puts listeners at ease with its instrumentation that echoes various nature sounds. The oboe and other woodwinds play a lilting tune. Then, a hand-struck percussion instrument thumps in lightly. The soundscape grows louder, and the oboe sounds like an exuberant bird. Drums and bass round out the rhythm, but the song does sound like morning breaking in a vast area full of wildlife.

There is a vibe that reminds audiences of a certain age of the folk rock band, America. The group’s attention to, and respect for people and nature often came through on certain songs. Also, the laidback feel of the music reminds of me early 1970s folk rock.

Still, there is enough jazz elements for audiences to hear that aspect, too. The stratospheric climb of horn notes, the multi-layered instrumentation that comes so close to being off-kilter and full of cacophony before falling back into balance, all remind listeners that this is jazz.

The songs on “Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe” sound as though they have been carefully chosen. Their bright and open sound reminds listeners of  the natural world that inspired their creation.


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