Shadowfax is the eponymous second release from the atmospheric fusion group, and the twenty-second release on Windham Hill. With a strong Asian and Native American influence on the music, there is a different feel to this release than the folk, classical and chamber jazz releases of their label-mates. And while this is fusion and not rock – there are rock underpinnings throughout the album. While this release isn’t as dynamic as all later albums, there is a drive and flow that comes through even on the quietest tracks.
As for the sound – this recording is an excellent litmus test of your system. While you can enjoy the music anywhere, it will sound compressed and more like atmospheric background music than the eastern-inspired jazz that it is. If you play the vinyl and your system doesn’t sound detailed and dynamic, then your system could use some extra resolving power. You can follow each instrument throughout every song and each piece comes to life. Phil’s bass is tight and yet full-bodied, and the ever-present percussion sparkles throughout each track. When I see someone dismiss this album as lacking any engagement or dynamics, I blame their reproduction of it, not the music. That being said, for the first 10 years I owned this album, I mainly played it on a home-made cassette through an old Sony receiver, and enjoyed it just as much as I do today.
As a bit of trivia, the closing sound on Vajra that I always took as a dog is actually Emil Richards dragging a rubber balled mallet over a marimba key, according to Phil Maggini in a 2013 Facebook comment.
Shadowfax members are active on the web, catch up with them on Facebook and MySpace.
Unfortunately, Stuart Nevitt, Chuck Greenberg and Bruce Malament have all passed away. Links to their obituaries are below.
New York Times Obituary for Chuck Greenberg: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/09/obituaries/chuck-greenberg-musician-dies-at-45.html
Joy Greenberg has written the biography “A Pause in the Rain” about Chuck, and maintains his web site: http://www.chuckgreenberg.com/cgindex.htm
You can find Joy’s site, and samples from her book here: http://www.joyhornergreenberg.com/jghome.htm She shares fascinating anecdotes and details about the band, as well as personal remembrances, in an easy engaging style; I highly recommend it for any Shadowfax fan.
Joy has generously permitted the reprint of an excerpt here:
Excerpt from “A Pause in the Rain” by Joy Greenberg:
There soon evolved a microcosmic musical community that could provide work for a lot of people. The timing was perfect—it became a little engine, allowing everyone to play and record with each other. Phil and Chuck became creatures of habit, starting a rehearsal schedule with a day-in-day-out routine, knowing the process was essential to their growth and viability as musicians. Robit did, indeed, manage to attract the backing of a label and cut the album Resident Alien with Chuck, Phil, drummer Stu Nevitt and guitarist G.E backing him up. By then Stu and G.E. had moved out from Chicago and were rehearsing with Chuck and Phil in a variety of bands, including one fronted by another old friend from the Windy City, Morris Dollison, aka Cash McCall. The Cash McCall band featured all the blues songs, like “Sweet Home Chicago,” the guys had grown up listening to and playing.
“It was through this musical network that Chuck’s—and Shadowfax’s—Big Break arrived. Robit had met another guitarist, Alex de Grassi, in London, where he was playing music in the streets, subways and folk clubs during the summer of ’73. Robit had kept in touch with Alex and had been urging him to collaborate somehow with Chuck.
Meanwhile, Alex had established himself as the premier solo instrumental guitarist on the seminal New Age label, Windham Hill. As Windham Hill cofounder Will Ackerman’s cousin, Alex was in an influential position, something that did not go unnoticed by Chuck. He admired Alex’s artistry and was eager to meet him. The feeling was mutual; Alex sent Chuck the tape of a guitar part to a new piece he was working on and invited Chuck to contribute a lyricon part. Chuck was only too happy to oblige. Then one day in the latter part of ’81, Chuck, Robit and I drove up to San Francisco from L.A. in Ruby. I dropped them off at Alex’s house in Noe Valley and went out to visit some friends while Chuck and Alex rehearsed some tunes for Alex’s upcoming album Clockwork. When I returned later, I heard a gorgeous melody emanating from Alex’s as I parked the car in front. It was the song, “Clockwork.”
Alex was impressed as well. They ended up recording two pieces. “Everybody went apeshit,” Alex said.
Indeed, they did. It seemed that all who heard Chuck’s lyricon were enchanted. Alex’s album Clockwork scored a big hit on radio and at retail, as well as with the powers at Windham Hill. As a result of its success, Chuck was emboldened to propose an album to Will Ackerman, who initially believed that Chuck wanted to do a solo project. Chuck’s task became convincing Will that what Will really wanted was a Shadowfax album, something he managed to accomplish without Will’s ever hearing the band play.
Chuck sensed that Will would not approve of the “outside,” heavily electrified, screaming-for-attention tunes that had been recorded by Shadowfax on Watercourse Way. It just didn’t jibe with the primarily acoustic, mellow, laid back sounds for which Windham Hill was gaining recognition. And Chuck knew better than to invite Will to a showcase and see this “electric fusion monster quartet”—the antithesis of Windham Hill music—live. It would have been an invitation to disaster, sending the self-avowed hater of electronic music running for cover. Will’s interest in recording Chuck was based upon Chuck’s essentially acoustic approach to Alex’s record Clockwork. To accept this offer on the basis of Will’s perception, completely ignoring the nature of his label’s musical direction, and to present him with an electric manifesto, would have been unfair to him and deal suicide. No, meeting and hearing Shadowfax was definitely not the way to get a deal with Will.
However, the band had a card up its sleeve—one it could play without any negative sense of compromise or loss of musical integrity. There had always been an acoustic side of the band that they very much enjoyed but that was never allowed to come to fruition. Now they simply took advantage of the opportunity to explore it further, creating a discipline that was at once challenging and creative. Chuck figured out how to convince Will that Shadowfax would be the perfect ensemble addition to the label’s roster of solo artists.
Fortunately, Will Ackerman was so smitten by Chuck’s lyricon from the moment he heard it that he was willing to go ahead with Chuck’s plan to record. “Suddenly there was this indescribable, ethereal sound,” Will said. He and Alex were sitting in a park in Silicon Valley, listening to “Clockwork,” and this “unbelievable sound, the music of angels.” Alex told him that “the angel responsible for this sound was one Chuck Greenberg, and that the instrument was called the lyricon.” When Chuck joined Alex in concert at the Great American Music Hall, Will was there, and “there was that sound of angels again.” After the show he spoke with Chuck, who promptly told him about Shadowfax, and it was decided, more or less on the spot, to record a Shadowfax album.
At first, I was incredulous that Chuck would want to go to all the extra trouble to get the band back together: At this point I had never heard them play live.
“Why bother with them when you have the chance to do your own thing?”
“Because,” he said, “I will always have the opportunity to do my own thing, but I may not always be able to work with this band. And we never finished what we started out to say.”
Side One 18:02
- Angel’s Flight 4:00 C. Greenberg
- Vajra 4:20 G.E. Stinson
- Wheel of Dreams 4:46 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
- Oriental Eyes 4:56 P. Maggini
Side Two 16:23
- Move the Clouds 3:08 G.E. Stinson
- A Thousand Teardrops 4:15 C. Greenberg
- Ariki (Hummingbird Spirit) 3:10 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
- Marie 5:50, G.E. Stinson
- G.E. Stinson: 12 string acoustic & 6 string electric guitars, and piano
- Chuck Greenberg: lyricon & soprano sax
- Phil Maggini: bass
- Stuart Nevitt: drums and percussion
- Emil Richards: contra bass marimba, conga, Thai vibes on Ariki; kelon vibes anvil, gong on Oriental Eyes, contra bass marimba, rhythm logs, bell tree, tambourine on Vajra; vibes and crotales on Wheel of Dreams, windchimes and bells on Angel’s Flight. The percussion ensemble on Ariki was arramged by Emil Richards.
- Alex de Grassi: 12 string acoustic guitar on the right channel of Vajra
- Scott Cossu: piano on A Thousand Teardrops
- Jamii Szmadzinski: violin and baritone violin on Move the Clouds and Marie
- Bruce Malament: Fender Rhodes on Oriental Eyes
- Produced by Chuck Greenberg
- Recorded in May and June of 1982 at Studio America, Pasadena, CA
- Recorded and Mixed by Joe Pollard
- Second Engineer: Max Reese
- Assistant Engineers: Pitt Kinsolving and Shep Lonsdale
- Original Half-Speed Mastering by Jack Hunt, JVC Cutting Center
- Matrix and Pressing by Record Technology Inc., Camarillo, CA
- Cover Photo by Greg Edmonds
- Design by Anne Ackerman
This recording was made on a modified MCI JH 16 recorder at 30 inches per second, and mixed to a Studer Mark III half-inch two-track recorder, using no noise reduction, limiting or compression.
Thanks to Joy Horner, Dave Below, Marty Lishon, and World Percussion. Thanks also to Sherman Clay Pianos for the use of the Kimball Bosendorfer Grand Piano, and to Zeus Audio Systems. Special thanks to Joe Pollard, to Emil Richards for the magic, and to Windham Hill.
- All Selections Greenshadow Music (BMI)
- Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
- Manufactured by Windham Hill Productions Inc.
(c) (p) Windham Hill Records 1982