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
Selections from the Windham Hill Records Album Catalogue
Windham Hill was truly hitting its stride in 1981-82. It took four years for Ackerman to release the first nine Windham Hill Albums, and of those, only six remained in print. Numbers 14-23 came in just over a single year, and each became a defining album for the label – either the first release of important new artists such as Liz Story, or genre-establishing discs like Alex de Grassi’s Clockwork. Sampler ’82 excises one track from each of the nine discs that Windham Hill released since the initial sampler came out in 1981.
Side One opens with the rather somber “Remedios” and continues in a generally solemn vein throughout the side, with Hedges’ “The Happy Couple” being the happy exception. Side Two picks things up a bit, and ends with the upbeat “Clockwork,” an ensemble piece which will be familiar to any Windham fan today thanks to its appearance on countless samplers since its initial release.
Ackerman was enraptured with the new digital technology of the time – his album Passage was one of the first commercial digital releases in the world. Each of the tracks here were remastered in digital – at some expense to the dynamics, detail and warmth of each of the recordings. Indeed, only “The Happy Couple” benefits from the increased detail and brightness of the remastering. Nonetheless, unless you’re a die-hard vinyl fan with a revealing system, the sound quality is still excellent.
In the end, I’m sure Sampler ’82 has its fans – it was the first introduction to many of these artists for many tens of thousands of people. However, the album is a broad overview rather than a cohesive statement of where the label was at the time, and each of the albums represented are strong and complete on their own. Nonetheless, while I do hesitate to second-guess Ackerman’s selections, for the modern listener, I would recommend you skip this one and buy the individual albums from the era. Sampler ’82 is an important snapshot of Windham Hill’s development, but not necessarily the place to start as a listener.
All of the recordings included in the Windham Hill Sampler ’82 are thirty inches per second, no noise reduction analog masters with the exception of “Remedios” which is a digital recording. This collection was transferred to digital and mastered as a digital recording to maintain the sound quality of the master recordings. KEF speakers were used in audio referencing.
Solid Colors is the auspicious debut of Liz Story. In the wake of the massive success of George Winston’s December a river of cassette demo tapes that would have stretched around the world came pouring into William Ackerman’s Palo Alto PO Box 9388. Liz Story’s recording was the beautiful bucket drawn from the torrent.
Rich, dense, and impressionistic – but always still pretty – Story draws from jazz, particularly as expressed by pianist Bill Evans, in much the same way as George Winston drew from folk. Liz Story’s style has continued to develop over the years. She continues to record, and each release deserves close listening.
The recording quality, as always, is excellent, with Story’s rich harmonics lovingly presented, and while the vinyl is the standard, even the CD transfer holds up well.
Solid Colors is a must-have recording for any fan of piano jazz, new age music, or Windham Hill.
Here’s the review I wish that I had written, by James Rotundi from Amazon: Story’s remarkable 1983 debut is the intellectual sister of Winston’s December–a discursive series of solo piano improvisations that draw on the rich jazz harmony of pioneers like Bill Evans, Story’s acknowledged chief inspiration. Yet Colors is almost minimalist next to Evans’s more densely textured works–a spacious blend of polychords, breezy runs, and finely timed sustenutos, with an accessible spirit and memorable melodies–like the uplifting figure she plays over a simple descending bassline in “Hymn,” or the indelible major-key main theme of “Things with Wings.” More economical than Keith Jarrett, more florid and changeable than Winston, Story finds a compelling middle ground here between jazz harmony and classical technique, outside improv and sturdy songcraft, complex performance and inner stillness. –James Rotondi
All Selections Windham Hill Music (BMI) except where noted
*Peace Piece is Acorn Music (BMI), Composed by Bill Evans
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
A Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc.
Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
(c) (p) Windham Hill Records, 1982
This recording was made direct to two-track using a Studer A80 VU MKIII half-inch recorder at 30 inches per second through a Harrison board. No noise reduction, limiting or compression was used. KEF speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this reecording.
Our thanks to Steven Miller for his many contributions in production.
Without You is for Terry.
Peace Piece is a homage to its composer, Bill Evans.
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
In a 2019 Facebook post, GE Stinson writes:
“Even though I have subjective personal issues with both albums (Shadowfax and Shadowdance), I like those records for different reasons. For us, the eponymous WH album was about focusing on a different aspect of our musical roots. Creating the music for both of those albums was an intense, wonderful experience, pivotal for the band, and done under a lot of pressure and stress. It’s a cliche but true that, at that point, Shadowfax was a family… with all the love, sadness, anger, forgiveness, etc that comes with any family.”
Stinson continues “The band had just reunited, we were able to record and do gigs so we were all happy about that. Each album had its own set of problems, struggles, and we were working with a very limited budgets but we made it work and, for the most part, we had fun.”
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
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
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.
Darol Anger and Barbara Higbie’s Tideline is a foggy windswept day at Stinson Beach, or rather time spent sipping coffee inside a weathered redwood beach house near Stinson, warm and rich, but with an undercurrent of cool tumult always nearby. From the rolling sea rhythms of Tideline to the Japanese music box references in “Onyame,” the album flows effortlessly through moods and moments. The closest analog to Tideline may be another classic, Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.”
Technically impressive while putting the music first, the album stands on its own as a must-have for any Windham Hill collector. It is even more important as a development in the ensemble sound of Windham Hill at the time, and also as the kernel for the Darol Anger/Barbara Higbie Quintet which would come to be known as Montreaux.
SIDE ONE: 20:32
Tideline ◊ (4:34)
Movie ◊ (1:47)
Above the Fog ◊ (3:50)
Keep Sleeping 0 (4:22) octave violin and piano
Onyame ◊ (5:49) violin, mandolin, piano
SIDE TWO (20:38)
True Story ◊ (4:22)
Fortunate ◊ (4:22)
Gemini 0 (1:02) mandolin and piano
Gualala 0 (5:41) piano, octave violins, cello
Lifeline ♦ (6:13)
◊ Written by Barbara Higbie and Published by Slow Baby Music (BMI)
o Written by Darol Anger and Published by Fiddlistics Music (BMI)
♦ Written by Barbara Higbie and Darol Anger and Published by Slow Baby Music (BMI)
All Publishing Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
Alll selections are violin and piano unless otherwise noted.
Recorded Frebruary 14-16, 1982 at Different Fur Recording, San Francisco, CA
Engineered and mixed by Howard Johnston
Assistant Engineer: Anne de Venzio
Half-Speed Mastering by STan Ricker Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
Matrix and Pressings by Record Technology, Inc. Camarillo, CA
Cover Photo by Alan Levinson
Liner Photo by Irene Young
Design by Anne Ackerman
Manufactured by Windahm Hill Records
A Division of Windham Hill Productions, Inc.
Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
(c) (P) Windham Hill Records, 1982
This recording was made as a multi-track on a Studer A 80 MK III recorder at 30 inches per second, through a Harrison board and mixed onto a Studer A 80 VU KMIII half-inch two track recorder. The Yamaha C-70 piano was miked with a matched pair of Neumann U67 microphones and a single Neumann U47 microphone. The violin was miked with a single Neumann KM 84 and a single AKG 414 microphone. A single AKG 451 EB microphone was employed as an ambient source.
Thanks to Tom Paddock for the use of his U 67 tube microphones; Stephen Gilchrist, and John Monteleone for hand-built mandolins; Will Ackerman, Anne Ackerman, Marin and the Windham Hill Family; Susan Skaggs; Doc Howard and Queen Anne; Tom and Pat of Different Fur; Katrina Krimsky, Irene Young; Mike Marshall; David Dawg; CM; Dave Balakrishnan; Dix; our parents, ancestors, and the big bang. Support new acoustic music.
Ira Stein and Russel Walder’s “Elements” is a misty morning cup of coffee. Energetic, even upbeat moments abound, but the overall mood is warm, wistful, and well-paced with a real sense of rhythm and flow from one moment to the next.
“Elements” is the recording debut for both Ira Stein and Russel Walder, and the twentieth album released on Windham Hill Records.
Stein’s playing is remarkable throughout, with both a solid command and a light touch on his instrument – with moments that remind one of the percolating playing of fellow Bay Area pianist Vince Guaraldi. Stein also composed all the tracks. More than most Windham Hill albums, “Elements” feels like jazz – the players so imbue their parts with feeling that each note sounds as if it could only be conceived in the moment.
Walder had been training with some of the shining lights in modern acoustic music – Paul McCandles and Ralph Towner, and his training and own personal magic are apparent. Under lesser skills, the 0boe can become grating with its high piercing tone. Here, Walder’s tone and touch give us playing that is sweet, yet complex, almost mimicking a human voice more like a tenor sax than an oboe.
I recently traded e-mails with Walder, and he shared some thoughts on his Windham Hill releases:
“Elements and Transit came at the very beginning of my career. It was a very exciting time in music and for me personally. Windham Hill was the magic door to everything that has happened since. I recently returned from a music tour to Spain and I remember going there with Windham Hill and it was a circle that completed itself. I also just came back from a tour of India with my new band and it was the first time since Windham Hill that I have have played in anything other than as a soloist.”
Walder has recorded a significant body of work, and fans of “Transit” in particular should check out his album “Rise,” available at Walder’s current sites:
As part of the overall Windham Hill vision of 1982, “Elements” shares more than a little DNA with Darol Anger and Barbara Higbie’s “Tideline,” released immediately after this. Both albums are central to the reasons I love Windham Hill music, although over the years, I find myself reaching for the glorious “Transit” over this release. No slur on “Elements,” it’s just that “Transit” is a masterpiece. Similarly, I sometimes play “Birth of the Cool” by Miles Davis. But more often than not, I’ll reach for “Kind of Blue” first.
“Keyboardist Ira Stein and oboist Russel Walder met in 1981 at a series of master classes taught at the Naropa Institute by two of their major influences, Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless. Shortly thereafter, Stein And Walder produced a demo and were signed to Windham Hill. Over the years, their sound has expanded from the acoustic duets of their 1982 debut, Elements, to a satisfying blend of electronic keyboards, drums, bass, and intricate studio enhancements.”
He then also attended The Boston Conservatory of Music, and The California Institute of the Arts. He also studied privately with teachers at The New England Conservatory of Music. At age 17 he toured Europe and North American with the United States Youth Symphony appearing in Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall among many notable venues. Walder came onto the contemporary jazz instrumental scene quickly in 1982, at the age of 19, after joining Windham Hill Records and then recording Elements with pianist Ira Stein. The pair met at Naropa Institute while studying with the jazz fusion group Oregon. Walder also studied with Oregon Jazz legend Paul McCandles. After the success of Elements, Walders next recording, 1986’s Transit, again with Stein, also included performances by Bruce Hornsby and mixing by Mark Isham.
~ Wikipedia biography for Russel Walder
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or any of the musicians? Share it in the comments section below.
Side One: 17:04
Minou’s Waltz 5:50
Side Two: 19:51
The Epic 1:20
Rice Fields 6:00
Have a sample to share? Post it and pass it along.
This recording was made on an MCI JH-24 recorder at 30 inches per second, and mixed onto an Ampex ATR 102 two-track. Teh principal microphones both for the 1932 Baldwin grand piano and the oboe were Crown PZM(tm) phase coherent microphones. No noise reduction, limiting or compression was employed.
KEF speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.
Many thanks to Toni and Dad, Marily and Fred, Barb and Clint, Deb, David, Paul McCandles, Ralph Towner, Glen Moore, Collin Walcott, Art Lande, Allen Vogel, Cynthia Maser, Howard Weisel, Dick Fister, Nika, Fellow Calartians, Harobed and Dominique.
Dedicated to Rudy G. and Minou.
Engineer Edward Bannon in the Tres Virgos recording Studio in San Rafael, circa 1980.
There’s a certain simplicity in any art that it takes a master to achieve. Whether it’s the quick study in a notebook that a Picasso or Matisse can use to convey motion, mood and sentiment, or the way an actor can almost imperceptibly move their face to convey a deep undercurrent of emotion, it’s a skill that is highly underrated.
Winter Into Spring is the third George Winston album released, his second on Windham Hill, and the 19th Windham Hill album. Winston’s “Autumn” had given Will Ackerman a new level of financial freedom to fuel his artistic vision.
From the time “Winter Into Spring” first dropped onto the turntables of George Winston fans everywhere, there was a sense that some portions of the songs “were so simple a child could play them.” The magic is that they were so simple that no child actually would play them. And those few bars that were so noticeable in their simplicity and purity soon gave way to Winston’s lushly chromatic songs. Truly, it takes a mature artist to be able to strip down a song, and still have a complex and lingering effect. Songs that drew from classical and jazz traditions, but mainly the beautiful and deceptively simple traditions of folk music. Comparing the two albums is necessary, as so many millions of copies of Autumn have been sold, but it’s also problematic, in that Autumn has a different emotional appeal, much as the seasons themselves draw on different aspects of the listener’s experience. Where “Autumn” is all amber hues and slowly changing colors, “Winter Into Spring” is crisp footsteps in the snow, cold moonlit nights, and then finally the burst of weak radiance of a Spring sun and wild mustard flowers. As always, Winston finds inspiration not just in the seasons, but as the seasons exist in the plains states – Montana in particular.
To this reviewer, “Winter Into Spring” is now my go-to Winston album, if only because I’ve heard “Autumn” so many times that it’s hard to have any perspective on it any more. But the other factor is that as I’ve matured, I’ve also appreciated the development of maturing artists more. “Winter Into Spring” reminds us all of the universal edict that it takes the longest to get to the simplest solutions. Winston’s playing on later albums will simplify even more – but for me “Winter Into Spring” is the right place for my ear and mind right now.
Harn Soper, who recorded “Autumn,” tells me that Winston would press down on the sustain pedal near the beginning of a song, and just keep his foot down, with the slow decay of the notes blending into the next key. This is what gives Winston’s composition a richness that was missing from so many solo pianists, and helped him define the genre of “new age” solo piano. There is plenty of that subtle density of sound here still.
This recording was made direct to two track using a Studer A 80 VU MKIII half-inch recorder at 30 inches per second through a Harrison board. The Yamaha C-70 piano was miked with a matched pair of Neumann U-67 microphones, a pair of Neumann KM 84 microphones and an AKG 451 EB was used as an ambient microphone. No noise reduction or reverberation was employed.
Thanks to Megan Gorwin, Scott Cossu, Alex de Grassi, Cathy Econom, Silvan Grey, Daniel Hecht, Michael Hedges, Paul Horn, Jerrel Kimmel, Steve Reich, L Subramaniam, and thanks to Bola Sete for his inspiration and specifically for his arrangement of Ocean Waves from his guitar LP “Ocean” Lost Lake Arts 82.
This is the first reference I have ever seen to Quiex Vinyl – a virgin vinyl compound with superior sound qualities. The Classic Records re-issue label uses the current formulation of Quiex extensively. I have several Blue Note and Led Zeppelin pressings using Quiex SVP from Classic that all sound great. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate the manufacturer – if you know, let me know so that I can properly credit them.
The first true ensemble album in the Windham Hill style – Clockwork really defined the label’s sound for the next several years. Alex de Grassi proves that not only is he one of his generations finest guitarists, he has a larger musical vision, ambition and extraordinary taste in collaborators. The players all bring both a technical and lyrical deftness to their parts, and as the album name implies, there is a musical interplay that creates a rhythmic whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Fans of de Grassi’s solo guitar work are rewarded on the second side with the Bougainvillea Suite opening – gorgeous and thoughtful guitar music.
Clockwork can be hard to find, and it is not the last word in either de Grassi’s or the label’s collective work, but it’s important as a new creative step in the genre-defining label, and a worthy listen in and of itself.
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or any of the musicians? Share it in the comments section below.
guitar, piano, percussion
Two Color Dream 6:25
guitar, fretless bass, soprano sax, drums
Graphic Design by Anne Ackerman
Cover Monoprint and Liner Photo by Anne Ackerman
All Compositions by Alex de Grassi
All Selections Tropo Music BMI
Administered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Manufactured by Windham Hill Music BMI
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
Michael Hedges was playing in a Palo Alto coffeeshop when William Ackerman heard him and signed him on the spot. Good move. Hedges is arguably the best acoustic guitarist to ever play, with apologies to Ackerman, de Grassi, Django Reinhardt and Bucky Pizzarelli.
“Breakfast in the Field” is Hedges’ first album, and the seventeenth Windham Hill release. It’s a deceptive album – what sounds simple has incredible technical skills behind it; what sounds pastoral becomes funky and urban. When the album came out, the buzz was not only that you had to hear Michael Hedges, but you had to see him playing. His style was so new and different that it made it seem as if the instrument had simply been waiting all these generations for its true master to come along. “Breakfast” gives you the first taste of the tremendous talent that Hedges developed before he died at the age of 43 in a car crash north of San Francisco.
Because “Breakfast in the Field” opens with two slow-paced songs, the casual listener could easily be fooled into playing the album quietly as background music. But turn it up, pay a little attention, and it will quickly become apparent just how much this 34-minute acoustic album can rock.
Michael Manring, who was so omnipresent on Windham Hill that it seemed as if he functioned as a house bassist, makes his first appearance here. George Winston, on the heels of “Autumn” and his successful contribution to William Ackerman’s “Passage” also performs here. In both cases, the effect is to complement and not overwhelm the immersive soundscapes created by Hedges.
In a 1987 concert, Hedges gives an introduction to “The Funky Avocado” that is revealing about his open-minded approach to composition and how he brought in so many influences to his work. Says Hedges: “This tune has a little bit of a cross cultural bent to it, but it has more of an American bent to it. from the time where I lived above a health food store just down the street from a gay disco called The Pink Hippopotamus. I used to be trying to write music up there, trying to… maybe it would be just after dinner and I’d be trying to get some work done, and The Pink Hippo was always sending me back ‘boom boom boom’ and maybe the bass line would come through, ‘bum Bum BUM bum Bum BUM,’ so rather than trying to compete with it, I decided to try to incorporate some of the elements. So that’s how ‘The Funky Avocado’ came about. It starts out with a medium R&B tempo, slows down into some heavy rock and it finishes up in a fit of disco fury”.
The sound quality is outstanding – Michael’s guitar is full of body and resonance, detailed, and all of one cloth. There’s an interesting side story regarding the guitar Hedges used for several of the tracks: “Eleven Small Roaches,” “Babytoes” and “Two Days Old”. As noted on Hedges’ memorialized “Nomadland” site: “If Michael’s art is driven by openness, the fates were on his side just after he finished The Road To Return. At a concert in Oregon in 1994, Michael was approached by a woman who returned a guitar to him which had been stolen from his van fifteen years earlier while opening for Jerry Garcia. The custom guitar (built by luthier Ken DuBourg and heard on much of Breakfast in the Field) was in dreadful condition, but Michael invested in its restoration and the instrument’s presence wound up becoming the inspiration for several of the tunes heard on Oracle.”
“As Michael points out, Oracle fits perfectly into the chronology of his own life—“The Road to Return was a search for ‘Who am I?’ Then my old guitar was returned and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is part of who I am.’ Now, I’m open. I have a feeling something new is on the horizon for me, because, after all, how many ways can you slap a guitar? Since I’ve been writing songs, I’m more conscious of the music I’m after. It shouldn’t be seen as a new phase of my playing, but just more of me.”
This is an essential recording for any guitarist, lover of acoustic music or Windham Hill.
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The Happy Couple 3:20
Eleven Small Roaches 3:00
The Funky Avocado 2:03
Baby Toes 2:10
Breakfast in the Field 2:24
Two Days Old 4:46
Peg Leg Speed King 3:20
The Unexpected Visitor 2:46
Silent Anticipations 3:23
Michael was a phenomenal live performer. Samples below are largely from concerts – he tells great stories about each song, and you get a sense of his showmanship.
This album was recorded without overdubs or multitracking on a MCI JH 110 A analogue two-track tape recorder at 30 inches per second through a Neve 8036 console with minimal equalization. No noise reduction was employed. The guitar was close-miked in stereo with a matched pair of AKG 452 EB condenser microphones in a cardioid pattern.
This album is dedicated to my teachers of composition: E. J. Ulrich who sent me on my way, Jean Ivey who let me go my own way, and Morris Cotel who asked me where I was going and why.
Thanks to Ervin Somogyi of Berkeley, CA who built the splendid guitar used on most of the tunes in this recording. Thanks also to Ken DuBourg of Arbutus, MD who made the guitar used on Eleven Small Roaches, Babytoes, and Two Days Old.