Paul Winter feat. Arto Tuncboyaciyan – Journey With The Sun (2000)

FrontCover1.jpgFor 20 years, new age wind player Paul Winter has headlined world-class audiovisual musical extravaganzas celebrating the summer and winter solstices at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Most of the contemplative nature of this worldbeat meets new age recording reflects the ambience of the early morning summer celebration, while two songs — the intensely percussive, Middle Eastern-flavored “Caravan at Dawn” and the mystical “Yabu” — come from the 1999 winter show that featured Mickey Hart playing RAMU, or Random Access Music Universe (i.e., an incredible array of electronic sounds). The unique spiritual power of the album derives from vocalist Arto Tuncboyacian, an Armenian whose African-sounding guttural vocals utter phrases in “vocables” from his own personal dialect; this is exotic scat singing at its most creative!

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The mystical “Broken Arm” shows the more heartfelt side of his vocals, and the interesting mood swings continue throughout. The joyous jig-like “Mountain Wedding” features the Uilleann pipes of Davy Spillane, and these pipes are used to more haunting effect on “Pas de Deux.” “Singing to the Mountain” is a wistful, folksy tribute to Tuncboyacian’s late brother, who was killed in a plane crash in Turkey.  (by Jonathan Widran)

Arto Tuncboyaciyan is yet another Paul Winter “find.” While Arto has been around as a performer for a number of years, his previous albums, recorded and produced in Armenia and Greece, have not seen wide distribution in the U.S; for all intents and purposes, this can be considered his domestic debut album. He has sessioned with, among others, Oregon, Al DiMeola and Chet Baker, as a percussionist, so he is not a totally unknown quantity. But it is his earlier Athens-produced albums “Onno” and “Tears of Dignity” which provided initial evidence of his remarkable vocal abilities.

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The brief title above could well have been called “This Journey is a melismatic trip.” It shows off Arto’s considerable vocal and instrumental skills and his intensity of song, with a near-Eastern flavor that at times is Sufi-like. Of the thirteen tracks on the album, Arto’s voice is featured on seven of them, and it is virtually impossible to pick a favorite. So I’ll pick three, instead: “Caravan at Dawn”(the opening track), “Singing to the Mountain,” and “Oror Bubrik” (the closing track), at some risk of not bringing mention to four other excellent tracks. “Caravan at Dawn” is a riot of vocal and instrumental color, very “Eastern” in its setting and with fine keyboard and percussion support by Jordan Rudess (of Dream Theater) on synthesizer and Mickey Hart on RAMU, his self-invented computerized Random Access Musical Universe, looking (and played) much like some modern-art steel pan. “Singing to the Mountain” features a long introduction by Arto on the sazabo, sounding much like some cross-fertilization of a banjo with a ukelele, and Arto is as good on the sazabo as is Bela Fleck on the banjo. “Oror Bubrik”, the closing track, is as good an album fade-out as “Dawnwalker Reprise” was on Winter’s “Celtic Solstice” album, which is about as fine a statement of praise that I can muster. The richness of the vocal and instrumental textures must be experienced, and Arto’s way with this “closer” is nigh perfect.

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But Journey With The Sun is also a “best hits” album of two years’ worth of recent Paul Winter Solstice Concerts (both Summer and Winter) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, so the album also has the contributions of “regulars” such as Eugene Friesen, Paul Halley and Dorothy Papadakos, and “frequent Consorters” such as Davy Spillane, Jerry O’Sullivan, Niamh Parsons, Jim Beard, and of course the redoubtable Jordan Rudess. Winter and Halley once again demonstrate their stranglehold on “cathedral blues” with “Cave of the Winds,” where Winter wails as well as he ever has in his opening soliloquy and Halley trips off on one of his best-ever organ improvisations. Davy Spillane once again serves notice that he is more than just the best improvisational Uilleann piper on the planet; he is the Johnny Hodges of the pipes. Mickey Hart shows off the remarkable capabilities of RAMU in a cute, upbeat track called “Yabu.” There are keyboards (piano, pipe organ, synthesizer) galore, with Halley and Rudess laying down some truly astounding synthesizer tracks. Eugene Friesen is still the best improvisational cellist around, with a nice Friesen/Spillane duet (a fascinating sonic juxtaposition) in “Pas de Deux.” There’s a nice Celtic ballad sung by Ms. Parsons. And two great stomps in “Mountain Wedding” and “Land of the Pipers” to serve notice that not all is tinged with melismatic melancholy. (by Bob Zeidler)

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Personnel:
Jim Beard (keyboards on 12.)
Damian Draghici (pan pipes on  03. + 04.)
Eugene Friesen (cello)
Vardan Grigoryan (zurna on 01.)
Paul Halley (keyboards)
Mickey Hart (electronic drums on  01. + 09.)
Zan McLeod (guitar on  04. + 12.)
Jerry O’Sullivan (uilleann pipes on 12.)
Dorothy Papadakos (organ on 12.)
Niamh Parsons (vocals on 10. + 13.)
Jordan Rudess (keyboards on  01.,  04. + 09.)
Davy Spillane (uilleann pipes, low whistle)
Arto Tuncboyaciyan (vocals, percussion, sazabo)
Eliot Wadopian (bass on  04. + 12.)
Paul Winter (saxophone)

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Tracklist:
01. Caravan At Dawn (Winter/Tuncboyaciyan/Hart/Rudess) 6.25
02. First Oasis (Spillane/Winter/Friesen/Tuncboyaciyan/Halley) 4.14
03. Broken Arm (Tuncboyaciyan) 6.09
04. Mountain Wedding (Winter) 4.44
05. Cave Of The Winds (Winter) 5.49
06. Pas De Deux (Friesen/Spillane) 2.45
07. Singing To The Mountain (Tuncboyaciyan) 4.50
08. Middle Oasis (Winter/Friesen/Spillane/Tuncboyaciyan/Halle) 5.24
09. Yabu (Hart/Winter) 5.02
10. Green Grass, It Grows Bonny (Traditional) 5.03
11. Last Oasis (Spillane/Friesen/Winter/Tuncboyaciyan) 4.04
12. Land Of The Pipers (Traditional) 5.19
13. Oror Bubrik (Tuncboyaciyan) 6:12

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