Inspiration in a Heavily Realm

Paul Winter Consort

Miho, Journey to the Mountain (Living Music LMU-42, 2010)

Renowned saxophonist and composer Paul Winter has the ability of recruiting some of the world’s finest musicians in his numerous projects. Miho, Journey to the Mountain is no exception.

For this occasion The Paul Winter Consort includes Paul Winter on soprano sax; Armenian musician Arto Tuncboyaciyan on vocals and sazabo; Paul McCandless on woodwinds; Steve Gorn on bansuri; Eugene Friesen on cello; Glen Velez on percussion; Don Grusin on keyboard; Indian musician Dhruba Ghosh on sarangi; Yukiko Matsuyama on koto; the Shumei Taiko Ensemble; Tibetan singer Yangjin Lamu; Tim Brumfield on organ; Café on percussion; Jordan Rudess on keyboard; Eriko Koide on carillon; and The Shumei Chorus, conducted by Hiroko Matsui.

Miho, Journey to the Mountain celebrates I.M. Pei’s Miho Museum in the Shigaki Mountains of Japan. Winter was asked by Shumei, a Japanese organization dedicated to beauty in the arts, natural agriculture, and spiritual healing, to create a musical celebration of the Museum.

Paul Winter inside Miho
The celebration marked the 100th birthday of Mihoko Koyama, the woman who was their leader and whose name graces the Museum. Winter first explored the Museum’s spaces, improvising on his sax, communing with the antiquities and the unique acoustics. “By this time, I was completely smitten with the building, the landscape, the whole place,” remembers Winter. “It’s an extraordinary marriage of architecture and nature. I gradually came to appreciate the antiquities and resonate with the story they seem to tell.”

Winter honors the occasion with an extremely beautiful Zen-like recording that features his soaring soprano sax, Arto’s spectacular vocal abilities and masterful work by the rest of the musicians. Miho incorporates elements of jazz, classical music, Japanese music, global sounds and thwe natural sounds that Winter loves so much, including rumbling elephants and the Japanese bush warble.

The album was recorded in the Miho Museum, one of Japan’s iconic buildings, designed by I.M. Pei and hidden inside the Shigaraki Mountains near Kyoto,” says Winter. “The music features an array of instruments and voices from Asian and Western cultures, along with those from the symphony of nature.”

Inspired by the legend of Shangri-La, world-renowned American architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design the Miho Museum, reached by a soundproofed tunnel meant to clear the mind and then by a graceful suspension bridge over a stunning gorge. It echoes the journey from a famous tale of a fisherman, following a river farther into the mountains than he ever had before, only to come through a tunnel-like cavern into the ravishing valley of Shangri-La, filled with blooming peach trees.

Paul Winter Consort in Japan
“From spending time among the antiquities, I gradually got the idea that paradise was a central theme,” reflects Winter. “People for millennia have wondered about eternity, the afterlife, and have dealt with the reality of death and the hope that there might be something beyond. The stories or visions of wonderful heaven occur across human tradition.”

The building itself—85% of which had to be built below ground due to the site’s status as a natural preserve—draws on the traditional form of the Japanese farmhouse, yet employs Pei’s signature glass roof and love of modern materials. To abide by the preserve’s regulations, Pei retained the original contour of the mountain that the Museum builders effectively moved and replaced to create the space.

Pei’s approach to designing the Museum had a musical side. The architect employs one simple shape, the triangle, repeated to yield complexity, inspired by the way J.S. Bach takes a simple theme and transforms it via complex variations. Paul Winter honored this by featuring a three-note theme at various times throughout the album, including in a solo by the carillon in Pei’s great 193-foot bell tower, the only one of its kind in Japan.

Miho brings together art, design, the sounds of nature and a group of the world’s most excellent musicians in a superb, evocative recording that bring together the musics of Asia and the West.

These are the happy results that emerge when you have a creative crucible: inspired players in a heavenly realm,” Winter smiles.

Miho received a Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album in 2010.

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Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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