Many of the best Windham Hill releases were pressed at the justly famous RTI plant in lovely Camarillo, California (not far from my Aunt Selma’s house.) Michael Fremer visits the RTI plant (as well as Pallas in Europe) on his vinyl video “It’s A Vinyl World After All.”
Until “How It’s Made” or “Modern Marvels” take on the glories of the vinyl pressing process, this will stand as a terrific document of the work done at RTI.
Michael Fremer’s DVD is available for purchase at most audiophile websites like Acoustic Sounds, Music Direct, Elusive Disc and Amazon, and for loan at Netflix. Enjoy
Frozen branches overhead, snowy drives in the evening, and the quiet of a snow covered landscape. Winston invokes all of these on his landmark album December. While Winston named his compositions after moments in time – months or seasons, he was really playing music about places – creeks, and trees, passes and roads in Montana and the high-plains and prairies.
The music holds up year-round thanks to its simplicity and beauty. Even the carols are stripped down enough that they can be enjoyed even as we endure the heat of a July afternoon. In his discography, December stands as a crowd-pleaser – neither as resonant and redolent as Autumn, nor as cold and brittle as the first side of Winter Into Spring. December is an album that inspired a million insipid imitators, yet always maintains a beautiful and thoughtful poise; relaxed, yet energetic.
December is often incorrectly identified as the album that made Windham Hill Records a crossover success. That honor goes to George Winston’s Autumn, which sold millions of copies and was the breakthrough success for the label. That being said, December was another high-tide mark for the label, and laid the groundwork for the extraordinarily popular Winter Solstice series.
It is curious that with all of the detailed credits, there is no listing of which brand of piano is played by by George Winston. According to engineer Harn Soper, Winston used a Yamaha grand for Autumn. Based on the sound, I would imagine it was another Yamaha for this recording. It should also be noted that in the recoding of Autumn, Winston would indeed drop and pickup in mid-song, only to be edited together later. This saves an enormous amount of time during the recording section, and I certainly can’t hear it in the recordings, which is remarkable given that Winston will often hold the sustain pedal down throughout an entire song, and the reverberations must undoubtably be different as he plays through a track different times.
Side One: 20:56
Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head 2:40 – An Appalachain carol of the late Eighteen Hundreds, Collected by the eminent folklorist John Jacob Niles.
Carol of the Bells – A Nineteenth Century Ukranian carol.
— Part One: Snow 1:51
— Part Two: Midnight 1:56
— Part Three: Minstrels 2:00
Minstrels was inspired by St. Basil’s Hymn, a traditional Greek Children’s New Years’s Carol based upon a rendition by Malcolm Dalglish.
Side Two: 18:18
Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel 5:21 – Composed circa 1699, the Kanon was originally an organ piece.
The Holly and the Ivy 4:52 – An Eighteenth Century English carol based upon an earlier French carol.
Some Children See Him 3:43 – Composed in 1951 by jazz trumpeter Alfred S. Burt (1921-1954), Some Children See Him was one of fifteen carols written as gifts for friends. The piece was originally a song with lyrics by Wilha Hutson expressing the universal love of children.
All other compositions are traditional and in the public domain.
Special Thanks to Steven Miller and Cathy Econom for their valuable contributions in production.
This recording was mande direct to two-track using a Studer A 80 VU MK III half-inch recorder at thirty inches per second. No noise reductin was employed. KEF speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.
There is a great wealth of traditional and contemporary music to draw from in doing an album for the winter season. These four albums have been most inspirational to me in conceiving of this album and in doing albums for the seasons.
Thanks to Doc Bochenek, Larry Boden, Mario Cassetta, Janea Chadwick, Megan Corwin, John Creger, George Cromarty, Jane Crosier, Alex de Grassi, Melissa Dufffy, Sylvan Grey, Howard Johnston, Gail Kennedy, Jerrol Kimmel, Silvia Kohan, Marin Moon, Steve Reich, Bola Sete, Sari Spieler, Liz Story, Marie Winchester
Promotional Single WS-17528 Mark Isham from the album Vapor Drawings WH-1027
Happy Fourth of July to our American readers. In honor of Independence Day, Windhaming presents Mark Isham’s On the Threshold of Liberty.
Interestingly, this track exists as the only 45 RPM Windham Hill 12″ promotional single I have ever found. See the comments below for a few more that the inimitable Caitlyn Martin found.
Liner notes and credits below the video.
On the Threshold of Liberty
In a decade where we have been bombarded with countless numbers of cold and mechanical recordings of synthesizer, it is like a breath of fresh air to work iwth an artist who is capable of utilizing the synthesizer to convey a more human perspective. Mark Isham is such an artist. Just looking at some of the musicians with whom he has worked gives you an idea of his depth and diversity: Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Gil Evans, Horace Silver, the Beach Boys, the Oakland Symphony, Esther Phillips, and Dave Liebman. And to round all this out, this past year he composed and performed the musical score to the new Carroll Ballard (the Black Stallion) film “Never Cry Wolf”.
This music has heart and it has soul — always a rarity, but an even more surprising feat considering that one man plays all the instruments (there is a percussionist added on these two pieces). I am quite proud, along with Mark, to have given birth to this music. Hopefully if will fill your hearts with as much joy as it does mine.
Steven Miller Producer, Vapor Drawings, Mark Isham November 1983