A tour de force of finger-picking guitar, and in many ways the album that would set de Grassi’s direction for years, Southern Exposure is an understated delight.
Technically impressive, and hewing to a fast-paced solo guitar sound, Southern Exposure nonetheless shows many moods. From the ringing rhythms of Overland, to the final notes of the humming Subway, De Grassi provides an album that rewards close listening, yet maintains a cheerful veneer of joy. Where Turning: Turning Back was more pensive, and Clockwork played on group dynamics developing in rhythm and melody, Southern Exposure sets a style that De Grassi is still exploring today.
Shadowdance confidently strides into the Windham Hill catalog with the showstopping New Electric India, electric guitar and thundering bass resounding. This is a slightly different approach than the bands eponymous label debut which was specifically composed to work within Windham Hill’s established acoustic sound. After the success of the first, the band was clearly given a little more freedom to follow their live sound than they dared on their original Windham Hill release. While Shadowfax has incredible depth texture and flow, Shadowdance brings dynamics and drive to the band’s gorgeous melodic sensibility.
From the opening note of New Electric India through the closing hum of the track Shadowdance, every note carries you through a churning river of sound depositing you at the end both thrilled and relaxed. Indeed, maybe the water analogy comes easily because Shadowdance has been used at the plankton exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the last 20 years.
Side Two carries the torch with the Don Cherry-penned track Brown Rice – a standout from the live performances, and closes with the more conventional fusion track A Song for My Brother, a fan favorite.
The sound quality is again extraordinary. Ackerman once again looked to Mobile Fidelity for the mastering and RTI for the pressings. Playing the album on my current vinyl rig was a shocker: the recording is so dynamic and detailed. I’m sure that in part that’s because this album is seared into my memory from countless plays on a Maxell cassette. In 1984-85, I was an exchange student to Yugoslavia, specifically Serbia, and due to space restrictions I could only bring 10 cassettes for my year there. Shadowfax/Shadowdance was the one Windham Hill tape I brought. Truly, for me, this was a “Desert Island Disk.”
Unfortunately, Stuart Nevitt, Chuck Greenberg and Bruce Malament have all passed away.
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 the Chuck Greenberg biography “A Pause in the Rain” by Joy Greenberg
The success of Shadowfax enabled the band to go into production on a second album. For material, they didn’t have to look too far. Intuitive businessman that he was, Chuck began thinking about all those old Watercourse Way masters over at Passport Records.
Although Watercourse Way had been out for eight years, the band had never received a dime in royalties. Chuck knew that there were many copies in print, however, and that the demand for them would increase with the release of the new Shadowfax. He also believed that if Shadowfax turned out to be a hit, there might be a renewed interest in the band’s first album, Watercourse Way. However, he wasn’t willing for Passport to be the beneficiary of any newfound success, particularly since he felt that Passport had burned the band for nonpayment of royalties. So, Chuck and the band’s attorney Steven Lowy devised a scheme to buy back all the old master tapes. Chuck knew he’d have to move quickly—before the release of Shadowfax. Once Passport suspected it might be able to gain more mileage out of Watercourse Way, the price for the masters would go up.
It worked—Chuck made them an offer and Passport was only too happy to rid themselves of what they perceived to be a “dead horse.” On the very day that the Billboard review hit the stands raving about Shadowfax, Chuck was collecting the master tapes from the Passport warehouse and blithely walking out the door with them.
Gaining the rights to Watercourse Way turned out to be more significant than even Chuck imagined at the time. In addition to re- releasing it en toto, Windham Hill selected one of its cuts, a lilting Chuck/G.E. duet called “Petite Aubade,” to be on the first of their Winter Solstice series, which went on to achieve Gold Record status. It also made it possible to “borrow” those tunes which the band felt were basically worthy but which had not succeeded as well on Watercourse Way as they had expected. For this reason, the title song from Watercourse Way, along with G.E.’s “Song for My Brother” were selected to be rerecorded for the second Windham Hill Shadowfax album, Shadowdance.
As with Shadowfax, Chuck and G.E. shared song writing duties on Shadowdance, with the exception of a piece by Don Cherry which was a medley of two tunes, “Brown Rice/Karmapa Chenno.” G.E., Phil, and Chuck were big fans of Cherry’s music and had been performing “Brown Rice” live, traditionally as the closing number of their set. It was the only non-Shadowfax composition they ever recorded or performed, and likewise one of the few with lyrics. Nonetheless, it was a testament to the band’s arranging skills. A consistent and perennial show-stopper, “Brown Rice” featured rap-like (before it was in style) nursery rhyme lyrics growled out by G.E. and backed by his searing guitar, with Chuck screaming on tenor sax, building to a crescendo then switching to a wailing lyricon—all pushed forcefully by Phil and Stu’s rhythm section.
Shadowdance became another showcase for Chuck’s burgeoning production genius. Although it cost slightly more than Shadowfax to create, he brought it in on time and under budget. In addition to the seven touring band members, he enlisted Emil Richards in the studio again, with Michael Spiro and Mickey Lehockey to beef up the percussion. The title tune from Shadowdance went on to become a featured number live, often receiving the greatest recognition and applause whenever they performed it and deservedly so. “Shadowdance” combined all the best qualities of Shadowfax: a catchy melody, rhythmic beat and interesting assortment of instruments.
Virtuoso percussionist Emil Richards had filled up the whole room at Group IV Sound with his esoteric collection of instruments from around the world, and the result was astounding. “Shadowdance” became a consistently sought tune by filmmakers, TV and radio shows for background music. After more than a decade, it is still being used by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for what I call its “dancing plankton” exhibit.
The band was also now able to afford a better recording studio when they set out to do Shadowdance, finding in Group IV the perfect place financially, personally, and technologically. A few years earlier, Chuck had performed on a movie soundtrack at Group IV and managed to cut a deal for himself through the owners to use the place at night—traditionally “dead” time––at a bargain rate. Without Angel Ballestier and the rest at Group IV, it would have been impossible to cut such high quality records for the price. So began an illustrious multi-record liaison between band and studio.
Shadowfax members are active on the web, catch up with them on Facebook and MySpace.
A Song for My Brother
Side One: 20:51
New Electric India 5:12, Stinson Ξ
Watercourse Way 5:06, Greenberg-Stinson Ο Ξ
Ghost Bird 5:04, Stinson Ξ
Shadowdance 5:20, Greenberg Ο
Side Two 17:14
Brown Rice/Karmapa Chenno 4:18, D. Cherry ◊
Distant Voice 3:46, Stinson-Greenberg Ξ Ο
A Song for my Brother 9:04, Stinson Ξ
Ξ Selections Greenshadow Music (BMI)
Ο Selections Dream Wheel Music (BMI)
All Selections Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
Emil Richards: Paiste gamelon gongs, bass flapamba, metal and bamboo angklung, wood block marimba, marimba on Shadowdance; Chinese water cymbals, kanjgeera on New Electric India. The percussion ensemble on Shadowdance was conducted by Emil Richards.
Michael Spiro: conga, chekere, guiro on Brown Rice; hand percussion on Watercourse Way, Brown Rice.
This recording was made on Studer 24-track recorders and Trident consoltes with Ampex 456 tape at 30 inches per second. It was mixed to a Studer Mark III half-inch two-track recorder. No noise reduction, compression or limiting was used.
Thanks to Jilll and Don Stegman, Bruce Howard, World Percussion Inc. Phil Manor, Mike Flynn, Christ Andronis, Steven Lowy, Denni Sands and all at Group IV, and Charles Horton at TEAC.
Special thanks to Will Ackerman and Anne Ackerman Robinson for having the faith to make this album possible.
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.
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.
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or Michael Hedges? Leave a comment below.
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.