Beginning with 2011’s From the Sound Up and following up with 2013’s Two People, Winther has released albums of creativity and reverence (Two People featured the music of Billy Strayhorn). Now, with Refuge in Sound (Sound Perspective Music SPM1001), Winther takes a broad jump forward in the development of his own sound and style. This guy’s not kidding around.
His tone, his effortless control, his brilliant writing skills all lay bare his expression of himself. He quotes Louis Armstrong, “What we play is Life,” and reveals more about himself on Refuge in Sound than in anything previous. He says this release is about his “personal connection with music.” And how it shows. It is reflective, emotional, affectionate and, as he says, personal.
With him are first-rate artists Allyn Johnson (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Billy Williams, Jr. (drums), Mike Moreno (guitar on tracks 1,2 and 4) and Christie Dashiell (vocals on track 3). Rogers has always been a favorite, as well as Moreno.
The album opens with the title track, Refuge in Sound. The introduction is bright and clean and, from the opening bars, you get the feelings that tone and clarity will mark everything you hear on this album. Johnson’s piano is taut and attentive. Rogers is as we have come to know him, vibrant and complementary. Moreno carries the melody forward with piano and Winther himself is a leader who leads by example. He locks down the theme and leaves space for all the others to work off of him.
Looking Back is a melancholic remembrance of moving tone and tempo. Morena gets his second pass with a sweet solo that is full of thought. There is a sense of longing but not lament. Johnson on piano maintains a 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2 motif that carries its own anchor to the past while Moreno circles around it. Winther escapes the fetter and sails away from it, no matter how often the anchor returns. It is looking back without regret but also without return.
Mulgrew Miller was a great pianist and composer who left us in 2013. One for Mulgrew is dedicated to the influential Jazz master and carries with it the Miller-inspired harmonies and strengths brought to bear by Johnson, Rogers and Winther. The harmonies are lush and the full-bodied delivery of the piece is warm and affectionate. Christie Dashiell’s vocals are a fine complement to the work.
Outsider starts off, in Coltrane style, with a chorus of sound before breaking into separate parts. Moreno is back in this up-tempo track with cool melodic lines and solid performances. Winther’s tenor sax smokes delightfully and by now you’re already thinking, “I’ve got to get those two previous releases from him!” Admit it.
Allyn Johnson turns in some of his best and brightest on Outsider and sets up the return of Winther as the rhythm section jails nails down the floor. They are tight in the pocket as the trades between guitar, sax and piano are ablaze.
Tell Me Your Truth is as open and inviting as the title implies. There is a call to be real in the open-minded and open-hearted tenor sax delivery. The response of the piano is delicate and even tender in the dialogue between them. Not dogmatic or demanding, it speaks in harmony. Wow. This one got to me.
Blues Life is what one would expect from a musician’s life in New Orleans. Keep an ear out for Rogers’ cool bass lines and his agreement with Williams’ drums. Winther offers stunning delivery of his solo and, once again, Johnson answers with aplomb. There is a nod-and-a-wink to Coltrane and he makes it work well.
The Sleeping Giant (For Mila) was written for Winther’s 9-year-old daughter. The tenor sax and piano dialogue is as well-done and as fine as any other spot on the album. It reminds me of Coltrane with McCoy Tyner’s work and you can’t say better than that. Which, of course, is a perfect lead-in to…
Tune for Trane. This is a splendid composition and the artists that their parts seriously and to great effect. The movement is cool and the performance is spot-on. As if I weren’t won over already, Tune for Trane sealed the deal. The solos are appropriate and the work together is a chorus of joy and of life.
Refuge in Sound proves more than Christian Winther’s virtuosity and talent in composing, even though both are eminently true. It is a revelation of the heart and mind of the artist. It is the musical equivalent of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. It should be required listening for any musician who wants to hear what reverence, artistry and self-revelation are all about.