A little George Winston to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to our US readers.
A little George Winston to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to our US readers.
Truly one of the great Windham Hill albums of all time, “An Evening with Windham Hill” features the classic Windham Hill artists at artistic peak of the label. While Ackerman, Winston, de Grassi continue to perform and record, often with even greater artistry than here, this album represents a clarity of vision and cohesion of styles that places it at the pinnacle of Windham Hill’s output.
Relaxed but uplifting, complex but with clarity, An Evening with Windham Hill is a required recording for any fan of the label.
Most telling about the label overall is Alex de Grassi’s introduction to Turning: Turning Back where he recounts how people tell him that they play the music at weddings and births – but “it’s really just about a trip Philadelphia.” de Grassi was writing about everyday places and moods – but touched a special chord with his fans.
Rickover’s Dream 4:30
Turning: Turning Back 9:00
Spare Change 5:29
Hawk Circle 5:10
Reflections/Lotus Feet 6:25
On October 9th, 1982, a group of ten Windham Hill musicians gathered for two shows at the Berklee Performance Center, Boston, Massachusetts. It was during those two shows that these recordings were made. The success of the Berklee Performance Center shows made it inevitable that other Windham Hill Evenings would follow, including Carnegie Hall, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, the Wax Museum in Washington, DC, and Symphony Hall in Boston to date.
All selections published by Windham Hill Music (BMI) except where noted. KEF speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.
Thanks to Steve Backer, Fred Taylor, Bill Strauss, Sue Auclair, Eric Jackson, Ron Della Chiesa and Al Goldman.
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
George Winston December
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.
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.
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.
Producer, Vapor Drawings, Mark Isham
Mark Isham: Synthesizers, trumpets, flugelhorn, piano, soprano sax, Steiner EVI, electronic percussion.
Peter Van-Hooke: Snare drum and electronic percussion
There’s a great new article by Todd Whitesel over at Goldmine Magazine recognizing Windham Hill as a “forgotten audiophile label” for both the artistry and sound quality. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more!
Since Goldmine also deals with valuation – I had to share some of my thoughts in the comments. I will expand on them here:
Here in Northern California, where Windham Hill was very popular, there are still record stores where you can find relatively cheap copies of the original pressings on vinyl. In addition to the condition of the vinyl and cover, there are a few things I look for:
1) Windham Hill originally numbered their discs using the WHS C-XXXX system in a nod to Takoma records who used the same system. Once A&M started distributing Windham Hill, they started using WH-XXXX. These pressings are more common, and between two pressings of similar condition, I would value the WHS-C pressings higher. (One note – Passage was numbered WHSD because it was recorded digitally, indeed, one of the first albums ever released that was digitally recorded.)
2) Promo copies are rarer, and often in better condition than non-promo copies. Also, they serve as a piece of history. Again, these are worth slightly more than a non-promo copy in my book.
3) Alternate covers and early pressings of Ackerman’s “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel” are also worth more, again due to rarity.
4) Signed copies, are obviously worth more, although some artists are more reluctant to sign than others.
5) The “Lost” recordings are a mixed bag – not as much demand, but very rare. “Kidd Afrika,” “Mary’s Garden” by Linda Waterfall are great albums, but generally only collectors look for them.
6) I would value a mint condition copy of one of the first 300 pressings of “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel” as the most valuable in the catalog due to rarity, and the fact that you know that it was personally handled by Will or Annie Ackerman. I hear that if people play them, they also want to use the best phono preamps on the market, HIFISYSTEMCOMPONENTS.COM seems to have a fantastic range of preamps that’ll work with any phono type signal.
7) In my collection, my mint copy of “Visions of the Country,” signed by Robbie Basho is my most valuable – it’s signed by the artist who has passed away, and it’s a very rare record. Most people would likely pay more for a signed copy of a Michael Hedges album due to his larger following, but Basho fans are equally passionate, so valuation remains based on individual demand.
All in all, you can’t go wrong – the most popular vinyl pressings can easily be found for only a few dollars a copy in some record stores, and sealed copies can still be found online for as little as $10-15 dollars. I do believe that long term, prices will increase as more people recognize the value of these treasures. In the meantime, buy a few, keep them clean, play them, and enjoy the music.
While many view vinyls as a thing of the past, true audiophiles know that the vinyl scene is still alive and well, with things like vinyl pressing from VDC Group ensuring the industry is here to stay.
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
Liz Story can be found on the web:
Shadowfax is the eponymous second release from the atmospheric fusion group, and the twenty-second release on Windham Hill. With a strong Asian and Native American influence on the music, there is a different feel to this release than the folk, classical and chamber jazz releases of their label-mates. And while this is fusion and not rock – there are rock underpinnings throughout the album. While this release isn’t as dynamic as all later albums, there is a drive and flow that comes through even on the quietest tracks.
As for the sound – this recording is an excellent litmus test of your system. While you can enjoy the music anywhere, it will sound compressed and more like atmospheric background music than the eastern-inspired jazz that it is. If you play the vinyl and your system doesn’t sound detailed and dynamic, then your system could use some extra resolving power. You can follow each instrument throughout every song and each piece comes to life. Phil’s bass is tight and yet full-bodied, and the ever-present percussion sparkles throughout each track. When I see someone dismiss this album as lacking any engagement or dynamics, I blame their reproduction of it, not the music. That being said, for the first 10 years I owned this album, I mainly played it on a home-made cassette through an old Sony receiver, and enjoyed it just as much as I do today.
As a bit of trivia, the closing sound on Vajra that I always took as a dog is actually Emil Richards dragging a rubber balled mallet over a marimba key, according to Phil Maggini in a 2013 Facebook comment.
Shadowfax members are active on the web, catch up with them on Facebook and MySpace.
Unfortunately, Stuart Nevitt, Chuck Greenberg and Bruce Malament have all passed away. Links to their obituaries are below.
New York Times Obituary for Chuck Greenberg: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/09/obituaries/chuck-greenberg-musician-dies-at-45.html
Joy Greenberg has written the biography “A Pause in the Rain” about Chuck, and maintains his web site: http://www.chuckgreenberg.com/cgindex.htm
You can find Joy’s site, and samples from her book here: http://www.joyhornergreenberg.com/jghome.htm She shares fascinating anecdotes and details about the band, as well as personal remembrances, in an easy engaging style; I highly recommend it for any Shadowfax fan.
Joy has generously permitted the reprint of an excerpt here:
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.”
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.
(c) (p) Windham Hill Records 1982
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.
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
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)
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.