Brothers:the Best Record of the last 10 years

Review by Colin Glassey

Brothers by Will Ackerman Jeff Oster Tom Eaton
Brothers by Will Ackerman Jeff Oster Tom Eaton

Brothers – Will Ackerman, Jeff Oster, and Tom Eaton. Featuring: Will Ackerman (guitars), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn and trumpet), and Tom Eaton (piano, electric keyboards, bass, percussion). Released in the fall of 2021.

A review by Colin Glassey – March, 4, 2022.

As soon as I heard this record, I knew I was listening to something special, but now, after four months of careful listening, I’m convinced this is not just good, not just great, but a pinnacle of musical expression.

These three artists have managed to express – in music – feelings which I have never felt before. Listening to the music I feel a strange mix of sadness, longing, anticipation, and hope. In my opinion, the reason why this music is without parallel is because it is an honest and deeply felt expression of the emotions many of us felt as the pandemic swept over the world.

The pandemic of 2020 to 2022 is a unique event in world history, nothing like it had ever happened before. Oster, Eaton and Ackerman, have done something no one has ever done before, they have put in music some of the feelings of that strange time.

I cannot say if this was intentional on their part, but I can say these three men are true artists and this music is from the heart. I mean that it is heartfelt in the most sincere way. This music has pain and sorrow within it. I do not argue the music is sorrowful, as it is expressing very complex feelings, not just sorrow but also a bit of joy, and a fair measure of happiness, which comes through in the delightful way the three work together to create this deeply moving music.

Let me now talk about the music as music. The centerpiece here is Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn. He has perfected a style of playing on this record where his notes seem to appear out of nothing. His notes are pure breath, they swell up and then they go away, like the sound of a breeze through the forest. I’ve never heard anyone play a horn instrument quite like this, though I’ve heard Steve Roach play synthesizers with a similar type of undetectable attack, where a note builds up out of silence and you can’t be quite sure when the note began or when it ends. Oster’s playing forms the emotional core of this music and I am in awe of his achievement here.

William Ackerman has been a pivotal figure in the genre of New Age Music, since he first started Windham Hill records back in 1976. I first heard Will Ackerman perform in the winter of 1979-80 and I have been a fan ever since (more than 40 years). I’ve seen Will in many concerts and I own essentially all his records. I think the six records Will recorded from 1977 to 1988 are works of musical genius and essential for every library. On this record, Will’s guitar acts as a counterpoint to Oster’s flugelhorn, sonically and emotionally. Ackerman as a master at playing a small repeated pattern of notes with great sensitivity and expressiveness. In his youth, he played these patterns of notes alone, but he soon found that his songs worked a bit better in conjunction with another instrument. On this record, Ackerman’s guitar figures are usually in the background, adding rhythmic stability and a feeling of anticipation.

Finally we have Tom Eaton, whose piano is usually adding small phrases to match Oster’s horn lines. On two of the pieces near the end of the record, Eaton plays a bass alongside Oster’s horn, adding a darker quality to the tonality of the music. Eaton also adds some very light touches of synthesizer to the songs and he gets the credit for recording, arranging, and mixing the music. Given that this record is a masterpiece, Tom Eaton’s contribution is worthy of the highest praise. Great job, Mr. Eaton!

I think all of the songs from this record can be found on YouTube – Jeff Oster created many videos for the songs using interesting photos and phrases. I will link to one here, but I humbly urge everyone to buy this record. Great artistry like this deserves to be financially rewarded. Do not stream music, buy CDs!

I close with this: In the future, when someone asks me What was it like to live through the Global Pandemic of 2020? I will say: Listen to the record Brothers, it will tell you what that time felt like.

About the author: Colin Glassey first started listening to Windham Hill records in the fall of 1979. Working as a DJ at KDVS radio station, he always played selections by Windham Hill artists in his weekly radio show. He attended many concerts by Windham Hill artists over the years, including William Ackerman, George Winston, and Michael Hedges performing at the Great American Music Hall in 1981. In 1995 he created one of the first webpages devoted to Windham Hill records at the (now defunct) website (Wayback link here).