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The Wider World of Windhaming

A year passes by

Everything and Nothing goes 

straight to memory

With a full year since my last post on Windhaming proper, it’s time for a roundup of Windhaming activity over the last year (with music samples!) 

Sony/Legacy will be reissuing select Windham Hil recordings, starting with Bill Quist’s album of Erik Satie compositions. I’m happy to share more details as I know them, and Sony permits.

There’s lots of Windhaming on Facebook!  I regularly publish video clips from YouTube, news from artists, and observations. It’s a nice feed and reminder of old favorites and things going on with many of the artists. I publish roughly weekly, but really just when the mood strikes. So if you’ve been here, and not there, over the past year you’ve missed 52 posts. 

Robbie Basho finally gets his due. Last year, I did the analog to digital conversion for Robbie Basho’s “Visions of the Country” re-issue on Grasstops and Gnomelife records. I’m quite proud that it was named Pitchfork magazine’s reissue of the year. The label is in process of re-releasing Basho’s Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar as well. There was also a nice 4 Men With Beards re-issue of The Seal of the Blue Lotus. 

I’m very pleased to announce that Grasstops will also be re-releasing the stunning 1982 solo guitar debut album of Windhaming friend Dennis Taylor – Dayspring. Windhaming is also scheduled to do the analog-to-digital conversion and the first listen indicates this will be a treat for Windham Hill fans. 

Grasstops is the brainchild of guitarist Kyle Fosburgh, a brilliant young guitarist and label founder. His playing starts where Basho and Fahey ended, and he perfectly captures a gorgeous combination of darkness and light, complexity and gentle beauty. 

I’ve been savoring Kori Linae Carothers absolutely terrific Fire In the Rainstorm album, produced by Will Ackerman. If you like the work of Liz Story, you must get this – thoughtful, gorgeous and passionate while always still traveling new ground with a distinctive voice. Hear what Will Ackerman has to say about Fire In the Rainstorm.

In other Windham Hill related artists, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jeff Pearce. Jeff worked with Ackerman, and the album covers certainly show they have the same taste in design… but the music pushes farther in to ambient territory, while remaining accessible to new age fans. In my book, he’s doing work on the level of Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There’s just no higher praise. 

I saw George Winston live! Like many fans, Winston’s Autumn is what started me on Windham Hill. I’ve heard the album too many times, and just don’t enjoy it like I used to. But live? There’s so much there. Winston always stretched out (the last time I saw his was 1985). In the absence of new material, seeing George play live is an absolute must for any fan. Gorgeous and better than he was on the albums, even recent ones. 

I saw Alex de Grassi and Michael Manring live! Seriously, it kills me that these folks aren’t selling out huge halls, Both artists are better than ever. Just outstanding live performers. I spend a fortune on music, but as Shadowfax’s GE Stinson passionately argues on his Facebook page, the current music industry is bad for artists and therefore bad for music – if there’s no money to be made on Spotify or iTunes, and CD sales are down, where will the money come from? Vinyl lovers like me are growing their purchases by 30-40% every year… but I doubt we’ll ever be more than 5-10% of total music purchases. 

Of course, Windham Hill is not my only musical interest, sometimes I’m chasing other labels – like Blue Note, Concord Jazz and Erased Tapes. Windhaming readers will likely enjoy the work of Nils Frahm, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Olafur Arnalds on the Erased Tapes label. 

Why did it take so long to publish Liz Story’s Unaccountable Effect? 

I created the site when I was between work in 2009, and had a lot more time. My clients have been keeping me quite busy, but a few weird things conspired for this post. First, I absolutely love the album and wanted to do it justice. I got Liz Story’s email after a show a couple of years back and hoped to get some comments from her on the album – alas, no response ever came. I also happened to drop my copy and scratch up side 2, which meant more time passed before I picked up another copy at Amoeba. Finally, I just realized I was letting perfection be the enemy of the good, and decided it was time to publish another page. The original intention of the site was simply to publish liner notes. Wanting to do a good job just slowed me down.

Enjoy the music.  

WH 1022 Shadowfax Shadowfax

WH 1022 Shadowfax Shadowfax

Review

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.

http://www.facebook.com/shadowfaxmusic?ref=ts#!/shadowfaxmusic?v=wall&viewas=1196427542&ref=ts

http://www.ilike.com/artist/Chuck+Greenberg/

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.”

Track Listing

Side One 18:02

  1. Angel’s Flight 4:00 C. Greenberg
  2. Vajra 4:20 G.E. Stinson
  3. Wheel of Dreams 4:46 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
  4. Oriental Eyes 4:56 P. Maggini

Side Two 16:23

  1. Move the Clouds 3:08 G.E. Stinson
  2. A Thousand Teardrops 4:15 C. Greenberg
  3. Ariki (Hummingbird Spirit) 3:10 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
  4. Marie 5:50, G.E. Stinson

Samples

Stream the entire album via MySpace

Shadowfax

Emil Richards, circa 1970's. photo courtesy Phil Maggini.
Emil Richards, circa 1970’s. photo courtesy Phil Maggini.

Additional Instrumentation:

  • 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

Credits

  • 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

WH-1022

WHS-C 1022

WH 1018 Alex de Grassi Clockwork

WH 1018 DeGrassi_Clockwork

Review

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.

Recommended.

Comments

Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or any of the musicians? Share it in the comments section below.

Track Listing

Side One:

Thirty-six 6:34
guitar, piano, percussion

Two Color Dream 6:25
guitar, fretless bass, soprano sax, drums

Clockwork 6:54
guitar, lyricon, fretless bass, percussion

Side Two: Bougainvillea Suite

Opening 1:49
solo guitar
Bougainvillea 3:35
solo guitar
Elegy 1:14
solo guitar
Sorta Samba 5:55
guitar, violin, mandolin, bass
Part Five 4:43
guitar, soprano sax, lyricon, violin, mandolin, bass

Credits

Musicians:

Alex de Grassi: guitar
Darol Anger: violin
Scott Cossu: piano
Chuck Greenberg: soprano sax, lyricon
Mike Marshall: mandolin
Patrick O’hearn: fretless bass
Michael Spiro: percussion
Robb Wasserman: bass
Kurt Wortman: drums

Produced by Alex de Grassi

Engineered and Mixed by Oliver DiCicco, Mobius Music, San Francisco
Original Half-Speed Mastering by Stan Ricker, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Chatsworth, CA
Matrix and Pressing by Record Technology, Camarillo, CA

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

(p) Alex de Grassi 1981

© Windham Hill Records 1981

Special thanks to Nick and Esther Baran, Jeff Heiman, and Elaine Marans for their support.

Other recordings by Alex de Grassi

Turning: Turning Back WH-1004, Cassette WT-1004

Slow Circle WH-1009, Cassette WT-1009

  • Alex de Grassi
  • Clockwork
  • WHS C-1108
  • WH 1008

WH 1017 Michael Hedges Breakfast in the Field

WH 1017 Breakfast in the Field Hedges

Review

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.

Comments

Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or Michael Hedges? Leave a comment below.

Track Listing

Side One

  • Layover 2:30
  • 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

Side Two

  • Two Days Old 4:46
  • Peg Leg Speed King 3:20
  • The Unexpected Visitor 2:46
  • Silent Anticipations 3:23
  • Lenono 4:03

Samples

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.

The Happy Couple

Eleven Small Roaches

Baby Toes

Breakfast in the Field

The Unexpected Visitor

Silent Anticipations

Lenono

Credits

  • Michael Hedges: Guitar
  • Michael Manring: Fretless Bass
  • George Winston: Piano
  • All Compositions by Michael Hedges
  • All Selections Michael Hedges Music (BMI)
  • Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305

©(p) Windham Hill Records 1981

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.

WH 666 Windham Hell

Windham Hell is an “Ambient Neoclassical Avant-garde Metal” band from Snowqualmie, WA.

No connection to Windham Hill, but I can’t resist a really good pun.

While I grew up on metal as a kid in the 70’s, I’m not much of an afficianado of more current work, but it’s clear that there is more here than your standard teenage wannabe dark metal group. If you like Windham Hill AND Metal, they might be worth checking out. As an aside, if you like Windham Hill AND Goth, you must check out Dean Can Dance.

Current Artist Web Site: http://www.myspace.com/windhamhell

Oh, and as long we’re on humor, violins and metal, check out the “Violin Hero” video from Bay Area string metal group Judgement Day. It’s worth it just to watch the opening bit.

WH 1016 Scott Cossu Wind Dance

WH 1016 Wind Dance Scott Cossu

Review

Scott Cossu’s “Wind Dance” is the artists first album, and the 16th release on Windham Hill. Wind Dance is the first ensemble recording on Windham Hill that most people are familiar with, but Linda Waterfall’s “Mary’s Garden” and the eponymous “Kidd Afrika” R&B album predates it by some 5 years.

Cossu is a thoughtful and talented player, and the second side of the album in particular is strong. Nonetheless, “Wind Dance” is lighter than Cossu’s later works. Cossu and labelmate de Grassi explore music that will be familiar to listeners of the Pat Metheny Group recordings of the time.

Reviews at the time were deservedly positive. From Cossu’s web site:


“Cossu weds ethnic diversity to his natural style of ethereal piano. His enticing polyrhythms are fit for ecstatic dancing. A sparkling record.”
– The Boston Globe

“Undoubtedly, Scott Cossu is one of the jazz luminaries of the future.”
-Billboard Magazine

Recommended for Scott Cossu fans, Windham Hill collectors, or fans of Pat Metheny’s early work. Otherwise, look to Scott Cossu’s later recordings which are overall stronger.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Jamaica 5:00
  2. Demeter/Rejoicing 5:32
  3. Kinsa 5:04
  4. Purple Mountain 5:29

Side Two

  1. Freija 6:25
  2. Almost Like Heaven 4:22
  3. Wind Dance 7:44

Produced by George Winston

  • All Compositions by Scott Cossu
  • All Selections are Silver Crow Music (BMI)
  • Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • A Division of Windham Hill Productions, Inc.
  • Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305

Distributed by A&M Records, Inc.

©(p) Windham Hill Records 1981

Research Notes

Dan Reiter’s Biography from the 1981 “Passage” Album:

DAN REITER, CELLO

Dan Reiter, 29, has for the past six years been co-principal cellist with the Oakland Symphony. He attended the conservatory at Cincinatti University and studied with Jack Kirstein. In addition to his work with the symphony, Dan composes unusual chamber music – incorporating folk and jazz elements along with classical – for his trio of clarinet, bass, and cello.

WHS C-1015 Windham Hill Artists – Windham Hill Records Sampler ’81

Review

Terrific compilation from the first fourteen Windham Hill Releases – or more specifically, nine of the first fourteen. By 1981, the musical direction of the label was crystal clear, with an emphasis on acoustic instrumental music. The blues/R&B party album by Kidd Afrika, the upbeat folk/pop of Linda Waterfall, and the vocal poems from Robbie Basho’s “Visions of the Country” would all remain footnotes from the label’s formation.

What remains is an excellent overview – missing only a track from Ackerman’s just released “Passage” or the essential “Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit.” The preponderance of solo guitar work is balanced by one long solo piano piece on each side – Bill Quist’s “3 Gymnopedies” on the first, and George Winston’s “Moon” on the second. This is also a master class in the subtle differences in styles of finger-picking guitarists, giving the listener a variety of techniques and tones – from the classically-tinged style of David Qualey, through the intensely soulful playing of Robbie Basho to Will Ackerman’s and de Grassi’s developing styles.

Sampler ’81 is well worth picking up; it’s a great overview of the early Windham Hill style, and some of the cuts are from the Qualey, Hecht and Basho albums which are hard to find and often collected only by completists.

Comments

Share your thoughts, memories or experiences with this album using the comments field at the bottom of this post.

Track Listing

Side One

  • Santa Cruz 2:09
  • David Qualey
  • Soliloquy WH-1011
  • Glenwood Music Corp. ASCAP
  • Produced by David Qualey

Side Two

  • Produced by William Ackerman Except Where Indicated
  • ©(p) Windham Hill Records 1981

Samples

In addition to the original artists’ performances below, you’ll note two excellent cover versions of the de Grassi and Ackerman tracks. De Grassi and Ackerman are good about sharing their tunings, and YouTube hosts dozens of performers who have learned the songs and uploaded their performances. It’s great to see that so many people who are touched by this music learn it and pass it on.

Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daugher – Ackerman

Santa Cruz – Qualey

3 Gymnopedies – Quist/Satie

Children’s Dance – de Grassi (cover version, but masterfully done)

Seattle – Ackerman (cover version)

Credits

  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305

WHSD C-1014 William Ackerman Passage

Review

A  musically and technologically transformative album, “Passage” is William Ackerman’s fourth release and the fourteenth  Windham Hill Records issue.

Musically, “Passage” represents a breakthrough for Ackerman. His prior album “Childhood and Memory” still showed the folk-music roots he learned at the side of Robbie Basho and John Fahey. Here, Ackerman recasts four of his earlier compositions into his developing style. By adding accompaniment from talented classical and folk performers the songs project nuances and colors that his solo guitar only implied. It also shows the direction of future many future ensemble albums.

After years of playing Windham Hill music for friends and family, I do need to say that there are those who simply find the pace and tone of this album depressing. I find it relaxing and fulfilling, but I’ve seen the response in enough people that it’s worth mentioning. I have the same reaction when I listen to Joy Division – it’s like a Dementor has entered the room. Music should cause an emotional response, and Passage does so beautifully, however, your response may vary.

Importantly, Ackerman released “Passage” right on the heels of  George Winston’s “Autumn”, giving the many fans of that album a natural step deeper into Ackerman’s vision of new acoustic music. The album clocks in at an all too brief 27 minutes – and each composition is a model of restraint and balance, making it seem even shorter. Nonetheless, this is an album well worth seeking out – the versions of the songs performed here are brilliant, and yet not the versions that have made it onto the Windham Hill compilations. If you like “Remedios” or “the Impeding Death of the Virgin Spirit,” these are the definitive versions.

Technically, “Passage” is important as one of the first purely digital albums released worldwide. Seeking to convey the music, Ackerman was driven to produce the finest audiophile-quality pressings, when audiophile was a term barely heard outside of a small group of passionate hobbyists. While early digital recordings often sound thin and etched in comparison to the best analog pieces, Harn Soper and the engineering team at the Music Annex avoided this. Rather the flat frequency response provides clarity. The vinyl, mastered by Stan Ricker at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and pressed by RTI of Camarillo sounds terrific, and perhaps the analog sheen provided by the vinyl works sympathetically with the early digital technology.

Fishman Transducers, in their customer profiles, shares their story of the formation of Windham Hill:

The label was regarded as an audiophile label, offering record pressings of far greater quality than the competition. Half speed mastering, standard at Windham Hill, was nearly unheard of in a competitively priced record label. The label experimented with vinyl compounds and a host of other innovations. SONY approached Windham Hill with the first digital processor in the US, the SONY PCM 1600 and Ackerman’s own PASSAGE LP was among the first purely digital releases in the world. Windham Hill became the source of the first digital simulcast and experimented with the first digital audio laserdiscs (winning Gold awards in Japan for a series of videos created in cooperation with Paramount Home Video in the US.

Comments

If you have thoughts, memories or experiences to share about this album, or have questions about its recording, we encourage you to use the comments section at the end of this post.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Remedios 5:06
  2. Processional 3:46
  3. The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit 6:02
  4. Pacific I 2:10

Side Two

  1. The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter 3:49
  2. Hawk Circle 5:03
  3. Anne’s Song 3:31
  4. Passage 4:25

Samples

Remedios

Processional

Credits

  • Graphic Design by Anne Ackerman
  • Cover Photo by Jerry Marcaccini
  • Inside Photography by Ron May
  • Liner Photo by Anne Ackerman
  • All Compositions by William Ackerman
  • All Selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
  • ©(p) Windham Hill Records, 1981

Liner Notes

Back Cover

I am most grateful to the musicians who composed and performed on PASSAGE, and to the many individuals who contributed their technical expertise to bring this audiophile recording about. The musical program of PASSAGE consists of eight pieces: four are new renditions of previously recorded compolistions while the others are recent compositions and previously unrecorded. Steel string guitar is the ocus of the album, but duets feature violin, piano, cello, and english horn hopefully add scope both to the musical program and to the range of tonalities highlighted by the digital recording process.

William Ackerman

Inside Gatefold

This album was recorded on the Sony PCM 1600 Digital Recording System. The guitar was miked in stereo with two AKG 452 EB microphones. A Neve 8036 console was used in conjunction with an EMT 240 stereo reverberation system. The control room monitors used were UREI 813 Time Align Monitors powered by a BGW amplifier and equalized through two White 1/3 Octave equalizers.

My thanks to Kellie Johnson who built the six-string used for the majority of this recording. My thanks also to Guild Guitars for providing the custom D-40-C heard in these recordings, Adamas Strings, and Gryphon Stringed instruments of Palo Alto for their careful work.

Darol Anger, Robert Hubbard, Dan Reiter and George Winston composed the parts they performed on the duets – Remedios, Pacific I, Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, and Hawk Circle, respectively.

Other LPs by William Ackerman:

  • Turtle’s Navel 1976 C1001
  • It Takes A Year 1977 C1003
  • Childhood and Memory 1979 C1006

This album is also available on coassette CTC 1014 and audiophile cassette A CTC 1014.

Darol Anger, violin

Darol Anger got his start on the violin after hearing a strolling violinist play “Never On Sunday.” From there it was all downhill. He took up electric guitar in high school in an effort to become popular, but nothing happened so he turned to fiddling. Nothing happened then, either, but he stuck to it, screeching and scratching his way through countless oldtimejugrootsrockreggaebluesswing-bebop&showtune type bands. He was a founding member of the David Grisman Quintet, with whom he continues to play Dawg music and jazz nonstandards. Darol has released on solo album, “Fiddlestics,” on the Kaleidoscope label.

Robert Hubbard, english horn

Robert Hubbard has played oboe and english horn throughout the San Francisco bay area for the past twenty years. A member of the San Jose Symphony, and co-founded the Midsummer Mozart Festival, his musical tastes tend to be less than well-rounded.

The prospect of appearing on this album, however, has lured him from his insular habitat, the dank and musty depths of the classical concert hall, into the fresh air and sunlight of Will Ackerman’s inimitable music.

Dan Reiter, cello

Dan Reiter, 29, has for the past six years been co-principal cellist with the Oakland Symphony. He attended the conservatory at Cincinatti University and studied with Jack Kirstein. In addition to his work with the symphony, Dan composes unusual chamber music – incorporating folk and jazz elements along with classical – for his trio of clarinet, bass, and cello.

George Winston, piano

Pianist George Winston’s first Windham Hill album, “Autumn,” has brought him instant acclaim and popularity throughout the country. His impressionistic music draws upon such diverse sources as Harlem stride pianist Fats Waller, New Orleans R&B progenitor Professor Longhair, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, and steel-string guitarist Alex De Grassi. George’s first recording, Ballads and Blues, 1972, was recently reissued on Lost Lake Arts.

Research Notes

Roger Prior

In a May 5, 1979 article, Roger Prior, listed here as the digital consultant, is referenced as the manager for Sony Digital products. The article goes on to reference the Sony PCM-1600 used here as the first digital recording device and a “foothold for Sony.” It also points out that jazz and classical recordings would be first to take up the technology because those idioms required no more than two-track recording, and that’s what the digital recorders of the day offered.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MoFi)

In 1980, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs were really just coming into popular awareness with the recent releases of the “Original Master Recording” series of popular albums including Supertramp’s Crime of the Century and the Beatles’ Remasters. Today, they are widely recognized as the finest pressings available for any album. And yet, fundamentally, every Windham Hill album released from 1978 on was produced in substantially the same way by the same people who made Mobile Fidelity the pinnacle of vinyl pressings.

In the credits above, I linked to the current Mobile Fidelity site. Mobile Fidelity has remained an iconic re-issue label even after having changed hands and going through a turbulent business history. More information about Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs history here: http://www.mofi.com/store/pc/viewcontent.asp?idpage=14

Quiex Vinyl

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.

WHS C-1013 Daniel Hecht Willow

Review

Willow is Daniel Hecht’s third album, after Guitar (1973) and Fireheart/Firewater (1977), and the thirteenth album in the Windham Hill discography. Willow is a pleasant laid-back guitar album. Compared to the breakthrough compositions that Ackerman, De Grassi and Basho were releasing at this time, it is much more conventional in style. It also takes a different tack than David Qualey’s classically-informed “Soliliquy.”

Most listeners, this writer included, will find “Willow” unexciting in comparison to the work of his label-mates. Nonetheless, there is much to recommend here. Hecht’s playing is confident, with a good sense of space and timing. His compositions are familiar and unchallenging. But I’ve learned long ago that there are many who will cherish the simple, even simplistic, art over the more technically complex. Sometimes that person is me – I’d be more likely to play “Willow” when others are around than Robbie Basho’s albums – though there’s no doubt that Basho’s intense artistry outclasses Hecht’s competent but modest charms. Indeed, “Willow” will be a pleasant diversion for the completist collector; but hardly worth pursuing to the ends of the earth.

Hecht never released another Windham Hill album, though “Willow” continued in print for many years. In 1989, he gave up playing guitar to take up writing, where he has had much success. As Hecht tells it on his site:

“A medical condition affected my hands and made playing pretty impossible. Giving up the guitar was tough, but I’m glad I did. For one thing, my compositions were very “athletic,” requiring constant practice – time-consuming and boring. And I just couldn’t get as good as I wanted to be I played a lot of concerts with terrific musicians like Alex De Grassi and Michael Hedges, and after a while I realized I didn’t have the level of talent. But I feel fortunate to have been deflected into writing. Telling stories comes naturally to me, and I seem to have an endless well of ideas, observations and interests to draw from.”

Original Release Date: 1980

Current Artist Web Site: http://www.danielhecht.com/

Comments

If you have thoughts, memories or experiences  experiences to share about this album, or have questions about its recording, we encourage you to use the comments section at the end of this post.

Track Listings

Side One

  • Willow 5:03
  • Autumn 3:27
  • Water Mantra 3:48
  • Jimmy Blue Eyes 3:07
  • Love’s Reply 3:54

Side Two

  • Confluence of the Rivers 3:35
  • Shell Game 3:20
  • Tanglefoot’s Tales 5:46
  • March of the Trolls 3:50
  • Afternoon Postlude Soliliquy 3:32

US Visitors: Hear a a sample of Afternoon Postlude Soliliquy in iTunes Preview. Track 13.

Lead Guitar on Jimmy Blue Eyes by Alex De Grassi

Credits

  • All Compositions by Daniel Hecht
  • All Selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records,
  • Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305
  • ©(p) Windham Hill Records 1980

Liner Notes

My especial thanks to Ervin Somogyi, of Berkeley, California, who made my delightful six-string guitar; and to Fred Carlson of Plainfield, Vermont, who made my twelve string. And to my brother Nicholas for his timely and gracious assistance.

Releases

“Willow” by Daniel Hecht was originally released on Windham Hill Records as WHS C-1013, and later as WH 1013. CD’s were released as WD 1013.

WHS C-1012 George Winston Autumn

WH 1012 Autum George Winston

Current Artist Web Site: http://www.georgewinston.com/

George Winston’s “Autumn” page: http://www.georgewinston.com/recordings/01934-11610-2.php

Review

“Autumn” is the second album by George Winston, and the twelfth album released by Windham Hill. This is the breakthrough release that propelled Windham Hill from small, passionate “folk” label to genre-defining, multi-platinum selling label, and for good reason.

In context of the label’s development, this was really just the first album with crossover appeal – Winston’s December and later, the Winter Solstice albums brought Windham Hill more and more into mainstream consciousness.

Autumn found an audience who had loved Keith Jarrett’s enduringly popular The Koln Concert from 1976, and wanted more. Indeed , there’s a fair resemblance in mood, artistry and overall feel. But where Jarrett was improvising, Winston wrote densely rich compositions that drew from folk, rock and classical influences into something new. Moods shift and tempos vary – giving  life to the otherwise serious nature of the compositions. Over the last 30 years Winston has continued developing his performances of most of the pieces here to great success. Few are the artists who can reinvent such iconic performances into something significantly better than the original, but Winston does it. Or maybe I’ve simply listened to the album to death – it’s been such a regular companion of mine that it’s difficult to find anything new in it. However, if you have only ever had a passing experience with Autumn, consider this an essential recording that will reward revisiting.

Like Alex De Grassi, Winston writes music that is meant to evoke a place. That he succeeds brilliantly is evidenced by the myriad people who post YouTube videos of snowy roads, high-def landscapes, and mountain creeks to the soundtrack of Autumn. For Winston, it’s Montana itself that’s the muse. Sure the albums have seasonal titles, but it’s the season as experienced in Montana.

Comments

If you have thoughts or experiences about this album, or have questions about its recording, please leave a comment, share a memory, or ask a question in the comments section below.

Track Listing

Side One: September (26:22)

  • Colors/Dance 10:25
  • Woods 6:47
  • Longing/Love 9:10

Side Two: October (20:16)

  • Road 4:14
  • Moon 7:44
  • Sea 2:42
  • Stars 5:36

Recorded Jun 19 & 20, 1980

Samples

First, visit the Dancing Cat (George Winston) YouTube page featuring “Woods”. It’s a pleasure to hear a new performance of this song.

  • Colors/Dance 10:25

  • Woods 6:47
  • Longing/Love 9:10
  • Road 4:14
  • Moon 7:44
  • Stars 5:36

Credits

  • All Compositions by George Winston
  • Al Selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford CA 94305
  • © (P) Windham Hill Records 1980

Liner Notes from the 20th Anniversary Edition

SEPTEMBER

1. Colors/Dance (10:25)

Inspired by the blazing yellow cottonwoods of Miles City and Billings, Montana, where I mainly grew up.

The middle section of improvisation over two chords was inspired by the great band The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and the late Jim Morrison [1943-1971]), particularly the improvisation on two chords in the instrumental section ofLight My Fire from their first album in 1967, THE DOORS (Elektra). This section was also inspired by the modal improvisation over different sets of two chords by the late, great saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967). This style of improvisation appears in the middle of Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things from the 1960 album of the same name (which also inspired The Doors) and his version of Greensleeves from the 1961 recording THE COMPLETE AFRICA/BRASS SESSIONS (Impulse!). Another inspiration was the Coltrane-influenced version by the great jazz organist Jimmy Smith, from his 1965 album ORGAN GRINDER SWING (Verve). I was also inspired by a similar improvisation by the late, great composer/guitarist Frank Zappa on his song Black Napkins, especially from hearing him play it live in 1975. He recorded it several times, including on his albums MAKE A JAZZ NOISE HERE (Rykodisc), FRANK ZAPPA PLAYS THE MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA––A MEMORIAL TRIBUTE (available from the family site at www.zappa.com), YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON STAGE ANYMORE VOL. 6 (Rykodisc) and ZOOT ALLURES (Rykodisc). His music has been very inspirational to me in general, especially his 1969 instrumental album HOT RATS (Rykodisk).

The Doors’ first album, which is like one long song from the beginning to the end, is the album that most inspired AUTUMN, which I recorded thirteen years later in 1980. Of all the composers whose music I love to interpret, The Doors’ and Jim Morrison’s songs have taken the longest for me to make them sound how I want—some have taken 34 years. I now play ten Doors songs at the solo piano dances I am currently doing, and I do a solo piano version of one of Jim Morrison’s songs, Bird of Prey, that he sang a cappella on his poetry album, AN AMERICAN PRAYER (Elektra). Jim Morrison has inspired and influenced my playing more than any other vocalist. (The Doors’ official website is www.thedoors.com.)

When I play this song live I now play it as a medley with Tamarack Pines, the song that begins my album FOREST. Colors/Dancewas composed in 1979.

2. Woods (6:47)

Also inspired by the trees in Miles City, Montana, which was built around the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Composed in 1974.

3. Longing/Love (9:10)

Composed in 1975


OCTOBER

4. Road (4:14)

Composed in 1971

5. Moon (7:44)

The second half is influenced by traditional Japanese koto music. When I play this live I now play it with Lights in the Sky from the FOREST album. The first half was composed in 1973, and the second half was composed in 1979.

6. Sea (2:42)

Particularly influenced by The Doors. The introduction is inspired by the late, great guitarist and composer John Fahey (1939-2001). Composed in 1973.

7. Stars (5:36)

Inspired by composer Dominic Frontiere’s great soundtracks for the first year of the television series THE OUTER LIMITS from 1962-1963, some of which are on the soundtrack album THE OUTER LIMITS ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (Crescendo Records).

Also inspired by Russian composer Aram Khachaturian’s (1903-1978) Adagio, from the Gayaneh ballet suite of 1942 (which was prominently used in the soundtrack of the film 2001), and by Lullaby, from the same suite. Composed in 1973.


Produced by William Ackerman
Recorded June 19 & 20, 1980
Engineered by Harn Soper and Russell Bond (Stars)
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA
Cover photo by Ron May
Design by William Ackerman

All pieces composed by George Winston
All selections published by Imaginary Road Music/Dancing Cat Music (BMI)

Special thanks to Henry Roeland Byrd (the late Professor Longhair), Thomas “Fats” Waller, the late Bola Sete, the late John Fahey, Alex deGrassi, John Creger, Steve Reich, Dominic Frontiere, Nels Cline, Russell Bond, Megan Corwin, the late Frank Zappa and the members of The Doors: Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and the late Jim Morrison

  • Vinyl pressings released as WHS C-1012; WH 1012.
  • CD released as WD 1012
  • Also released on BASF Chrome Cassette.

Research Notes

George Winston lives in Santa Cruz, CA and owns Dancing Cat Records. Dancing Cat promotes George Winston and published Hawaiian slack-key guitar recordings and concerts.

From The Music Annex web site:

We built and finished our first room, Studio A, in the summer of 1976. The other rooms were started shortly after that and we’ve eventually ended up with 5 studio spaces, Studios A, B, C and a Mastering Suite, as well as our Studio D, a converted video sound stage with an audio control room attached.

Our location turned out to have benefits we didn’t realize would be so instrumental to our longevity till later on. Being located smack dab between San Francisco and San Jose has given us a unique blend of clients both in the music and the corporate/advertising world. Before the dawn of “Silicon Valley” started to rise in the early 80’s our forte was “quality analog recording of acoustic instruments”, and many musicians became privy to our prowess at capturing the essence of performance by not letting technology get in the way of the creative process… getting the recording right the first time… and knowing when to let the “tape” continue to roll.

Progressive record labels like Windham Hill and SUGO Music, companies that became known for their unique musical artists and progressive recording techniques, found their way to our door. All of the important, early Windham Hill records, when their signature sound was just being defined, were recorded here: Will Ackerman, Alex deGrassi, Michael Hedges, George Winston, Scott Cossu and many others.