Paul Winter has made it his life's work to marry music and nature.
Blending spacious new age instrumentals with the calls of whales, wolves and other terrestrial beings, the Litchfield resident and Grammy Award winner has long embraced "the greater symphony of the Earth," as he told the New York Times in a 2009 interview.
But while Winter has spent years exploring forests, oceans and canyons, there are times when he visits a different sort of sanctuary: the church. Whether it's Episcopalian or Catholic, Unitarian or Methodist, the septuagenarian saxophonist has on many occasions played paeans to nature in houses of worship.
"Churches are built for listening -- that's exactly what we want," Winter said. What's more, he sees an opportunity to cultivate a connection between the ecumenical and the ecological realms.
"The embrace of the natural world has been growing in the religious community," said Winter, who returns to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Wilton for a performance with his band, Paul Winter Consort, on Sunday, Jan. 13. "I want to encourage that if I can."
Winter, on saxophone, will be flanked by cellist Eugene Friesen, pianist Jeff Holmes, percussionist Satoshi Takeshi and 50-some voices from the St. Matthew's choirs during the upcoming concert. The choirs will back the band for its performances of selections from "Earth Mass/Missa Gaia," Winter's sweeping nature-music composition.
Winter, who has appeared with the choirs twice before, said it is "wonderful to perform with such a talented and enthusiastic group of singers."
"The energy from it all is contagious," he added.
For the Jan. 13 performance, Winter and his ensemble will cull from their expansive 40-year discography -- a sonic tapestry of jazz, classical music, world music and sounds of wildlife and the environment (sometimes referred to as ecological jazz). Concert-goers can expect to hear tracks from "Icarus," the seminal 1972 record that captured the group at the height of its improvisational prowess. The album, an amalgam of contemplative melodies and exotic instrumentation (marimba, sitar, tablas), is an experiment in cultural cannibalism and a defining moment in the then nascent genre of world music.
"Earth Mass/Miss Gaia" will comprise a smaller chunk of the set. The composition -- the first contribution made by the Paul Winter Consort during the band's artists-in-residency at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City -- features the sounds of wolves, whales and loons woven into the band's gentle jazz improvisations and atmospheric soundscapes.
It is a Mass that "celebrates the whole earth, its cultures and creatures," said Winter, who performs "Earth Mass/Missa Gaia" annually at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is the world's largest Gothic cathedral.
Winter noted that in the 30-plus years since "Earth Mass/Missa Gaia" was written, it has been performed by choirs in churches of different denominations all over the country. More and more people are flocking to hear it live. For Winter, it is yet another sign of the growing appreciation for the natural world in the religious community.
"From what I've observed," Winter said, "There is a rapidly expanding openness toward the whole community of life."
Scott.email@example.com; 203-964-2238; http://twitter.com/scottgarg
St. Matthew's Church, 36 New Canaan Road, Wilton. Sunday, Jan. 13, at 4 p.m. $80 for patron, $40 for regular ticket, $20 for students. 203-762-7400, www.stmatthewswilton.org.