Although this is an older recording, Paul Winter (soprano saxophone) is an exceptionally creative musician who was creating mellow instrumental music well before the New Age genre was fully formed. Produced by legendary music impresario George Martin, Winter and his group blend traditional orchestral instruments like flute, oboe, English horn, and strings, with the electric bass (Herb Bushler), acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars (played by Ralph Towner), bongos, tabla, mridangam, surdos, bass marimba, and sitar (played by Collin Walcott).

It’s actually refreshing to listen to music without synthesized keyboards!

The music includes fully formed scores with complex musical ideas. Most of the songs are written by Ralph Towner and David Darling, although other composers are included on the album. On track 2 “Ode to a Fillmore Dressing Room,” the Winter Consort presents a languid melody on a sitar with guitar and organ accompaniment. Track 3 “The Silence of a Candle” is a song with introspective and thoughtful lyrics (“The silence of a candle burning in my room/Speaks softly of the peaceful balance to be found/ Just beyond/The road within, without a right or wrong”). These lyrics are solidly rooted in the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s, but continue to resonate with the contemporary pagan movement.

Track 5 “Juniper Bear” is an exciting acoustic guitar performance accompanied by insistent drums. Track 6 “Whole Earth Chant” reflects sounds reminiscent of Irish drumming and dancing melodies. Track 9 “Minuit” echoes the folk-singer genre of the 1960s, while turning toward the world music genre that was fully cohesive twenty years after this album was recorded.

While in some respects this album falls into what I call “white-boy stoner music” because of its laid-back approach, “Icarus” is a wonderful example of visionary, classically-trained musicians in the earliest vanguard of the New Age music movement. They were reaching toward a more spiritually-oriented popular genre that includes a variety of instruments and world drumming, and writing songs that create a peaceful, soulful mood.

The benefit here is that, unlike some New Age music, the musical ideas are fully formed and more complex than some of the flat, boring chordal drones performed by later New Age musicians. And the instruments are real instruments played by real musicians, not digital replications extruded from keyboard sound bank.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Artist: Paul Winter and Winter Consort
CBS Epic Records/Living Music, vinyl LP 1972; reissued as a CD 1991.
40:01 min.