Original Release Date: 1979
Alex De Grassi Web Site: http://degrassi.com/
“Slow Circle” is Alex De Grassi’s second album and the ninth album released on Windham Hill Records. For this album, Ackerman commissioned liner notes by Tom Wheeler, which I will only second here because they so perfectly capture this album. See the full piece below.
The mood is classic Windham Hill. Where Ackerman tries to capture a mood directly, De Grassi writes songs to capture a sense of place: rural, but not necessarily grand places with natural beauty. “Causeway” is really about the causeway going over the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Klamath is really about Klamath in Northern California, and so forth. This makes his songs less poignant, overall, cheerier and more relaxed.
The sound quality is faultless – recording again by Harn Soper at the Music Annex, the recording doesn’t cast a soundstage – rather it puts you almost in the position of the guitarist himself. The reverberant body of the guitar is constant presence, and obviously a well-considered part of De Grassi’s playing.
This is an essential recording.
Side One: 20:26
CAUSEWAY (1) 1978 (4:09)
INVERNESS (1) 1978 (3:24)
KLAMATH (2) 1978 (2:51)
SLEEPING LADY (4) 1978 (5:17)
SLOW CIRCLE I (2) 1975 (4:18)
Side One: 17:01
SLOW CIRCLE II (2) 1978 (2:56)
WHITE RAIN (1) 1978 (3:36)
MARCH SKY (1) 1975 (4:03)
MIDWESTERN SNOW (3) 1979 (6:10)
(1) E B E F# B E
(2) E B E G A D
(3) E B E G# B D#
(4) E B E F# B D
- Produced by William Ackerman
- Recorded at the Music Annex, Menlo Park, CA
- Engineered by Harn Soper and Roger Wiersema.
- Mastered by Stan Ricker
- Pressings by RTI, Camarillo, CA
- Cover Photo by Ron May
- Liner Photo by Ray Stryker
- Design by Will Ackerman.
- All compositions by Alex De Grassi
- All Selections Windham Hill Music BMI.
- Manufactured by Windham Hill Records.
- Box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
- © Windham Hill Records 1979
My special thanks to Ervin Somogyi of Berkeley, CA who built and provided the guitar used for this recording.
Alex De Grassi.
Alex DeGrassi is an acoustic guitar impressionist. At the heart of his music is an aesthetic sensibility that embraces both the beautiful and the abstract. His songs are at once enjoyable and provocative, combining classical harmonies, the deceptive simplicity of various ethnic and folk musics, and a freedom from convention befitting a jazz composer.
SLOW CIRCLE is especially communicative, for at every turn it hints of an accumulation of experiences worth sharing. Alex’s poetic intuition is acute, imparting to SLOW CIRCLE a visual suggestiveness, a timeless quality evoking not just rain or snow, but dreams of rain, memories of snow.
There is much variety here, though not in the usual sense of a guitarist displaying his facility with various established styles. Rather there is a single, cohesive style, a new voice. The strong tonal anchor of each piece is explored in a variety of ways, encompassing a variety of moods – intense and serene, cheerful and introspective, romantic and invigorating. There are delicate minuets that lilt and twirl, meditative tone poems, and thematic, self-accompanied melodies, all punctuated with deft harmonics.
Alex’s compositional hallmark is his special gift for the unexpected – the chordal twist, the elegant juxtaposition. Instead of ignoring classical harmony and consonance, he filters them through his own perception and presents a new harmony, a new consonance. He can tinge an original melody with the echo of a childhood favorite, a fusion that brings to mind Samuel Johnson’s remark about the poetry of Alexander Pope: “New things ar made familiar, and familiar things are made new.”
Alex fingerpicks a clear and bright sounding steel string guitar. Like his compositions, his playing is sensitive and inspired. Staccato flurries are executed with confidence, and the dense, blurry-fast arpeggios are as stunning for their articulation as for their speed. Poignant passages are played with grace, and Alex’s attention to detail, his appreciation for nuance, pervades every corner. In short, his technique is potentially virtuosic, scary, the kind that shoves fellow pickers to the cliff of decision: should I practice like a madman, or chuck it all together?
With SLOW CIRCLE, Alex DeGrassi establishes his artistry in the first moments of the first piece, and there soon emerges an identity so distinct and so inseparable from the songs that it’s hard to imagine another guitarist attempting them. There is a good chance that SLOW CIRCLES’s energy will take you in, that its eloquence will speak to you, and that its lingering spirit will bring you back.