Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 – Selections from the Windham Hill Records Album Catalogue
Michael Hedges / Mark Isham / William Ackerman / George Winston / Shadowfax / Alex de Grassi / Scott Cossu / Billy Oskay & Micheal O Domhnaill
Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 Review
Coming at the absolute crest of Windham Hill’s artistic and financial success, this is arguably the album to recommend if you are only to have one Windham Hill album. And if you were relegated to some kind of special hypothetical hell that allowed only one Windham Hill album in your life, well, it would be a hell with a bit of mercy in it if this were indeed the one pressing to keep you company. It’s got it all: Hedges, Ackerman and de Grassi on the groundbreaking acoustic guitar end; George Winston’s Thanksgiving representing the holiday albums to come with its autumnal glow, and the ensemble performances of Shadowfax, Nightnoise (before they were Nightnoise), Scott Cossu, and Isham’s On the Threshold of Liberty.
The Windham Hill Annual samplers were a driving force in the label’s popularity. Ask anyone who was around at the time, and they’ll remember either George Winston, the Winter Solstice albums or the samplers. The samplers were frequently featured on the Billboard charts, far outselling the original albums in virtually every case. Each release has its own flavor. ’81 had a focussed purity on solo performances, ’82 adds contemplative complexity akin to chamber jazz. On this release, there’s an expansiveness and confidence in the composition and performances that for the first time brings the underlying joy to the surface.
The mastering here is by the legendary Bernie Grundman. Grundman was mastering engineer for A&M records for many years before staring his own studio in Hollywood in 1984. The BG mark in the runout grooves generally is as good a guarantee of quality as is Rudy Van Gelder’s RVG mark. Production is most frequently by Steven Miller, whose work clearly grew with the label – or possibly helped drive the growth of the label.
Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 Liner Notes
Aerial Boundaries 4.45
Naked Ear Music BMI & Windham Hill Music BMI
Aerial Boundaries WH-1032
Produced by William Ackerman, Michael Hedges and Steven Miller
On the Threshold of Liberty 7.29
Windham Hill Music BMI
Vapor Drawings WH-1027
Produed by Steven Miller
Windham Hill Music BMI
Past Light WH-1028
Produced by William Ackerman and Steven Miller
Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by William Ackerman and George Winston
Greenshadow Music BMI, Administered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Chuck Greenberg
Alex de Grassi
Tropo Music BMI, Adminstered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Southern Exposure WH-1030
Produced by William Ackerman and Steven Miller
Oristano Sojourn 4.55
Silver Crow Music BMI and Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Steven Miller
The Cricket’s Wicket 6.16
Billy Oskay and Micheal O Domhnaill
Nightnoise Music BMI and Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Billy Oskay and Micheal O Domhnaill
Digital Transfer and Assembly by Steven Miller and Dan MacDonell at M&K Sound Corporation, Culver City, CA
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA
Cover Photo by John Cooper
Design by Anne Robinson
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records, a Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc. Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94395 (c) (p) 1984 Distributed by A&M Records, Inc.
Windham Hill is a registered trademark of Windham Hill Productions Inc.
Few albums stand at both the pinnacle of a genre and simultaneously transcend them. Michael Hedges Aerial Boundaries is one of those few albums that served to define a genre by showing all that it is capable of, while simultaneously and immediately appealing to both casual listeners and those most in the know.
With Aerial Boundaries, Hedges atypical tunings and two-handed percussive technique brought his music to another level beyond that of his first recording “Breakfast in the Field”.
Much has been written about Hedges. I don’t have much to add – simply, If you are not familiar with this recording, you must hear it – and on a good system. If you are, it’s time to hear it again.
Aerial Boundaries Samples
We are fortunate that Randy Lutge has posted so many of the recording from the New Varsity Theater. Hedges was an electrifying live performer, and as perfect as the songs seem on vinyl, they reach another level of depth and complexity still when performed live. Spend a little time on YouTube and you’ll be amply rewarded.
Enjoy the samples, Liner Notes, Credits and “Remembering Michael Hedges” below.
After the Gold Rush
Menage a Trois
The Magic Farmer
Aerial Boundaries Track Listing
Ó Aerial Boundaries 4:45
Ó Bensusan 2:30
Ó Rickover’s Dream 5:00
Ó Ragamuffin 3:15
ζ After the Gold Rush 4:10
Ó Hot Type 1:31
∞ Spare Change 5:45
Δ Menage a Trois 7:10
♦ The Magic Farmer 3:50
Aerial Boundaries Credits
Michael Hedges: Guitar
Mike Manring: Fretless Bass on “After the Gold Rush” and “Menage a Trois”
Mindy Rosenfeld: Flutes on “Menage a Trois”
Produced by William Ackerman, Michael Hedges and Steven Millar
Ó Recorded live to 2 track digital master at Windham Hill Farm, West Townshend, VT, using the Fedco Audio Labs remote truck. Engineered by Steven Miller, assisted by Tom Arrison and Nick Gutfreund.
ζ Recorded live to 2 track master at Sheffield Studio, Baltimore, Maryland. Engineered by Bill Mueller.
♦ Recorded live to 2 track master at Different Fur Studio, San Francisco, CA. Engineered by Steven Miller.
Δ Recorded at Mobius Music, San Francisco, CA. Engineered by Oliver DiCicco. Mixed to digital by Steven Miller at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
∞ Realized at the Peabody Electronic Music Studio, Baltimore, MD. All sounds are of guitar origin. Engineered and edited by Michael Hedges. Mixed to digital by Steven Miller at the Peabody Recording Studio.
Digital transfers by Mark Boeddeker at Master Digital, Venice, CA.
Original Mastering by Bernie Grundman, A&M Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Cover photo by Richard Santangelo.
Liner photo by Cathye English.
Design by Anne Ackerman Robinson.
All compositions written and arranged by Michael Hedges, published by Naked Ear Music (BMI) and Windham Hill Music (BMI) except “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young, published by Broken Fiddle Music (ASCAP) and Cotillion Music (BMI).
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records. A Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc. box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
Windham Hill is a registered trademark of Windham Hill Productions Inc. All rights reserved.
Aerial Boundaries Liner Notes
Thanks to Randy Lutge, Steven Miller, Hilleary Burgess, Thayne and Ruth Hedges, George Winston, Geoffrey Wright, Steve Backer, Anne Robinso, Will Ackerman, Alex deGrassi, Mindy Hedges, Steve Reich, Admiral Rickover, Mike Manring, and Pierre Bensusan for their encouragement, support and inspiration.
The telescope was invented in 1608 by a Dutch lens grinder, Hans Lippershay. One day Lippershay discovered accidentally that by putting lenses at both ends of a tube and then putting the tube up to his eye, he could view things “close up”. He called his device a looker, and thought it would be useful in war. Galileo got hold of one, improved it a little, and they used it himself to challenge prevailing ideaas abotu the solar system. This music is dedicated to the spirit of Galileo.
Remembering Michael Hedges
Immediately after Hedges died in 1998, Acoustic Guitar magazine and Alex de Grassi did a lengthy recollection of of Michael, consistent with the stories I’ve heard from engineer Harn Soper. I do not own the rights that this content, but given that the web is old enough that I’ve seen valuable pages disappear over the years, I have decided to do a cut and paste. (If you own this content, and want me to remove it from this page, simply contact me via the comments below.)
The death of Michael Hedges in a car accident last November sent a quake of shock and sadness through the music community, and tremors are still being felt. Using radical alternate tunings and two-handed tapping and percussion techniques, Hedges redefined the language of the acoustic guitar, cutting an extraordinarily influential path. For this special tribute, we look back at Hedges’ life and music, through the eyes of his friends and collaborators. Alex de Grassi, Hedges’ labelmate at Windham Hill and a groundbreaking guitarist himself, compiled the stories that follow from hours of conversations, some of which occurred at a small gathering of San Francisco Bay Area musicians who had known and worked with Hedges for years. Several of these people also shared rare photos: the black-and-white images of Hedges’ landmark recording sessions for Aerial Boundaries were rescued from water-damaged negatives, and most are published here for the first time. Together, these words and pictures provide an unprecedented front-row view of the life and music of a guitar revolutionary.
–Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
RANDY LUTGE (manager/owner of the New Varsity Theater, Palo Alto, California) It was the summer of ’79 or ’80, and I was sitting in the lobby of the Varsity Theater when a fellow with very long hair and a guitar walked down the courtyard, looking like a street musician out to hustle up a gig. It was Michael, walking in from a day at his computer/electronic music class at Stanford, and he said, “I hear this is the place to play in Palo Alto.” I said, “Yes, perhaps. What sort of music do you do?” Mike said that he didn’t much like to be pigeonholed into any one style but that he liked Neil Young a lot.
“Aha! We have all kinds of people, all the time, who do Crosby, Stills, and Nash. We’re really not interested.”
“What would you like me to sound like?” he asked.
“Well, if you walked in here and said you sounded like Alex de Grassi or Will Ackerman, I would be much more intrigued.”
“All right, I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.
The next afternoon back he comes with a cassette tape in hand. The night before he had recorded “Silent Anticipations”and one other piece. It seemed so bold at the time that the tape got put on right then, with everyone including Mike checking it out. It was clear from the first few notes that it was very eclectic, complex stuff. I told him the place was his, whenever he wanted, as often as he wanted. He played the next night. That evening was so special that we got out the early primitive video camera and taped, as we would do for so many later shows. Michael spent the next several years having the Varsity as his musical home base, going eventually from tips in the courtyard to large concert events in the theater.
WILL ACKERMAN (founder of Windham Hill Records) I was accosted on the street by Randy Lutge of the New Varsity Theater. He said, “Look, I’ll give you two free tickets to the movie tonight and dinner if you’ll come hear this guy play.” I’m hearing that all the time and I’m thinking, “Oh God, but two free tickets and a dinner, that’s pretty good.” So he takes me to that little upstairs room overlooking the courtyard, and Michael was there playing for just a handful of people. At the time, he was playing most of the stuff that’s on Breakfast in the Field[his first album, 1981], obviously some pretty impressive stuff. I started writing out what I could remember of a contract on a napkin and had him sign it. It was a way of saying to Michael how completely overwhelmed I was and how sincere I was about wanting to work with him. That was one of the quickest propositions in the history of Windham Hill.
MICHAEL MANRING (Windham Hill recording artist) At the time we met, I was playing in a band in D.C. and doing a bunch of pickup gigs. One night in Baltimore I was doing basically a jazz gig with Lon Efram. We played this place where we did a set of dinner music and then a set of pretty much whatever we wanted. Mostly we were playing jazz tunes, but in the second set Lon told me to play some of my solo bass stuff I was working on at the time. Michael was there–I think he had lent us a PA–and he came up to me after the set and was real excited. He saw that I was goofing with some stuff on the bass that was like what he was doing on the guitar. We started talking about all kinds of stuff. He seemed such a strange person and very intense. I remember asking Lon, “Is this guy OK?” Lon said, “Yeah, he’s a pretty good guitar player.”
So we got in this intense conversation right away about a lot of music that we liked. We had a lot of common tastes in music. We were talking about Jimi Hendrix and Anton Webern and Morton Feldman and Harry Partch. I didn’t know very many people who knew about their music. I think we talked about Van Halen.
Michael said he was working on this demo tape for this little record company that nobody ever heard of, especially me. And of course that was Windham Hill. I went up a couple of weeks or a month later and played on his demo. I met him at his apartment, and he said, “Man, you gotta hear this record”–and it was your record [Alex de Grassi’s Turning: Turning Back]. Then we did the demo in the Peabody electronic music lab. He gave me a tape of some of his electronic music and some of his chamber stuff for unusual ensembles like vibes, cello, and guitar. I still have a copy of a piece he did for flute and tape. He actually started performing it in ’90 or ’91. An atonal piece, as I remember, it was based on frequency relationships. One of the first things we talked about in our first conversation was composing with the Fibonacci series [a numerical sequence developed by 13th-century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci]. There was this book we were both interested in that analyzed Bartók’s music in terms of the Fibonacci series. We had both been doing “Fibonacci” compositions at that point. He was also writing pop music at the time. He had already written “Watching My Life Go By.” He had a bunch of other songs like that that he never played again.
We talked about music constantly, sometimes staying up all night. The amazing thing about him was he’d be playing something that was totally rocking, totally melodic, and yet really intellectually challenging, and the two things would be happening completely interweaved with each other. He wrote a piece I used to love to play. It was a pop song, but the melody was a 12-tone row. It was gorgeous, and you wouldn’t know it was a tone row unless you analyzed the music. And that was so much how he thought.
ALEX DE GRASSI I remember when I heard his first album. I hadn’t met him yet–I’d just been hearing about him through Will. I heard the record and I went, “Wow, this guy’s great!” The piece that really stood out was “Breakfast in the Field,” because it was such an unusual approach to solo guitar. A lot of the other pieces on the album were great pieces, but they sounded a little like Martin Carthy, a little like this and that. It wasn’t until Aerial Boundaries came out  that I thought the really amazing stuff emerged.
MANRING I remember doing Breakfast in the Field and thinking, “This guy’s got a wonderful music sense.” I don’t know if I encouraged him or not, but we talked about getting more intense, more rhythmic; we were both real interested in the tapping thing. When we were touring for Breakfast in the Field, we used to do his tunes and a lot of covers. We would do a bunch of Neil Young tunes and a bunch of Beatles tunes. We were on our way to play in Ashland [Oregon], and he was saying, “We need to do a new Beatles tune,” even though we were already doing five Beatles tunes. I remember saying, “Oh, we should do ‘Come Together.’” And he said, “Oh, no, no–that’s much too crazy, we could never do that.” And I said, “No, Michael, we really should do it. I think it would be great–we gotta do something different.” We were playing all the acoustic stuff–“Rocky Raccoon,” all the mellow stuff. I finally talked him into it, and we stopped at some small town and found a music store that had the music so that we could learn the lyrics. I taught him the lyrics as we continued driving and then we played it that night. So I don’t know if I encouraged him, [but he began] to get a little wilder.
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES
STEVE MILLER (engineer/producer) I remember Will saying when we were getting ready to do the live record [Windham Hill Live, Berklee Performance Center, Boston, 1983], “Wait until you hear this piece [‘Rickover’s Dream’] that Hedges is going to do.” I didn’t hear it until we did the dress rehearsal that first day. I just went, “Holy shit!” It definitely knocked me out. I had never heard anything like that. It was the next step from that piece “Silent Anticipation.”
WILL ACKERMAN “Silent Anticipation”was striving for something, but “Rickover’s Dream” was cinematic. It’s such a realized piece.
MILLER The first day he showed up [to record in Vermont], we were all psyched because at the live show at Berklee he had shown up with this TC [Electronics] chorus. It was so cool, that sound we got on the live record [Windham Hill Live] for “Rickover’s Dream.” So when he showed up, I said, “Where’s that box?” He said he had left his stuff at the Greyhound station in Boston and it got ripped off. So right off the bat we had to get him a chorus.
The first thing we recorded was maybe one of the more acoustic pieces, like “Ragamuffin” or something. And then we did “Rickover’s Dream.” Will and I actually were both kind of bummed out because it wasn’t as cool as the live version; that was the piece Will had been saying to everyone, “This is the most influential, important acoustic guitar piece of the last 50 years.” And then, as I remember it, we did the piece “Aerial Boundaries.” Will and I talked, and I said, “I’m going to try to take it another step further than ‘Rickover’s Dream.’” And he said, “Do it. This will be great.”
ACKERMAN As far as [recording the album] Aerial Boundaries, I almost have amnesia.
MILLER There’s a good reason why Will doesn’t remember much, because he got poisoned on the second day! He was building his garage, and he was putting some sealer on it, and we didn’t see him for two and a half days.
ACKERMAN Oh yeah, I was really sick! No wonder I was out! What I remember, what I think I remember, is Michael being in the living room. Steve had created this monster sound [out of “Aerial Boundaries”], and Michael was basically horrified. I remember him saying that he was looking for an acoustic record, and this had gone into this very different place.
MILLER He freaked! He totally wigged out and ran out of the [remote recording] truck and went into the woods for a few hours. And we couldn’t find him. Nick Gutfriend [owner of the remote recording truck] and I played football for half the day. And then Michael came in and smoked a huge joint. It took him a few times [listening] before he went, “Wow, that’s pretty wild.” And then the next day Michael and I went and found Will at his property.
ACKERMAN And I had poisoned myself [with the sealer]. It was bad. I was so dizzy that when I went to try to get out of that room, I fell down the trap door. And you know, that wasn’tfunny. I was hurtin’. I was stark naked on the ground in either October or November. . . . Oh, God.
MILLER And Michael was kind of uptight at that moment, because he still wasn’t, I don’t think, really convinced that this [recording of the piece “Aerial Boundaries”] was the thing. And then when Will told him what had happened [in the garage], it totally loosened him up–he felt a lot better [laughs]. . . .
He did the piece “Spare Change” on a four-track. These days people would be able to cut and paste that together on samplers. I came to Baltimore [Peabody’s studio] and helped him get started, and I came back about five days later. I didn’t realize what he was doing. He had written the melody backwards, physically on paper, and played it backwards, and then turned the tape over so it would play the melody. I said, “Jeez, Michael, I’m anal, but I don’t have the patience to do that!”
Not only that, but there’s that one chord that drops in pitch. So we’re going, “How do we make that happen? Like a whammy bar or something on the acoustic guitar?” So we sat there for an entire evening trying different techniques to make that thing happen until finally the two of us were pressing the recorder at synchronized times and I was rolling this oscillator that vari-sped the machine down. We were there for five hours getting that one thing to happen.
ALEX DE GRASSI I remember doing a little promotional gig with Michael at an audio dealer in San Francisco when Aerial Boundaries and my album Southern Exposure had just come out. Michael asked me if I minded if he stood up when he played. It had never occurred to me to stand up and play solo guitar. I had played standing back in my street musician days, but I always felt that I had more control over my playing by sitting down. Everybody I had seen playing solo guitar–Leo Kottke, John Renbourn, Ralph Towner–all sat when they played.
I told Michael whatever he wanted to do was fine with me. Then I sat back and was amazed at both the precision and energy of his playing as he stood and played. It really changed my thinking about what was possible. In Randy Lutge’s video of Michael playing at the Varsity back in ’82, you can see even though he was standing up, he had the hand position and technique of a classical player even when he was playing a Neil Young song.
MICHAEL MANRING He was actually a pretty good classical guitar player. He was playing Sor, Tarrega, and Bach. He wasn’t going to do that as a profession, but he could sit and play that stuff well. He studied classical guitar at Peabody, although he was an electronic music major.
DE GRASSI I can see how there might have been some influence from Sor in Michael’s playing because a lot of those Sor studies have to do with overlapping voices and the duration of notes. That was something that Michael did so well–along with all the other innovative techniques in his vocabulary.
JOHN STROPES (Hedges transcriber/publisher) It was clear from the beginning that the current state of notation for guitar would be inadequate to fully express Michael’s compositions. Now, it could also be argued it’s pretty inadequate for anyone else’s guitar music too. It only gives you a little bit of information. But he had really cut new ground, exploring new areas of guitar technique that had not been previously exploited, such as duration of notes, for example–carefully controlling when notes stop. That was something that was rarely, if at all, expressed. You can write a half note, but when you play the guitar it often might not be a half note. And we all know this and we have lived with this for many years, but in order to capture the real truth of Michael’s music it seemed like it was incumbent upon us to develop notation that would be able to focus in on those things that make it unique. We had not only to try to develop notational devices, but also to test them with groups of students to make sure that in fact you could get a result at the other end that was somewhat similar to the original performance. It’s something that more guitar music should focus on.
I think what surprised us all was that he not only had the technique to be a significant artist, but that we had in our midst a great composer. I think on one level or another it’s what struck everyone.
MANRING He got so far away from technique. I think he was actually a little bit uncertain about his technique. When we met, he was studying with this jazz player Larry Woldridge. And Michael kind of couldn’t do that Pat Martino thing. I remember for years him trying to play like that. Certainly he had the brains to do it, but somehow the particular connections involved in making that kind of music just never seemed to work for him. But then he took all his musical skills and put it in this other direction that was totally amazing.
TUCK ANDRESS (Windham Hill recording artist, with Tuck and Patti) Michael had the ability to completely distract you from how dazzling the technique was by being so musical.
MANRING I think Michael never felt like the guitar players who have all the chops; he never had that cockiness about his chops. And he was always real, real shy about playing with other people or playing other people’s music.
BOB DUSKIS (former head of A&R at Windham Hill) I remember we were in Philadelphia on a Windham Hill tour staying in the same hotel as the rock band GTR, which featured Steve Hackett from Genesis and Steve Howe, one of Michael’s heroes, from Yes. We’re in the elevator, and Steve Howe gets on with one of his roadies. Hedges says to him, “Hey, you know what I have in this case? I have a Dyer harp guitar.” Howe says, “Yeah? I’d love to check it out.” So we get out of the elevator. Howe has no idea who Hedges is. Hedges pulls out the guitar, and suddenly he knows he has the opportunity to play for one of his guitar heroes.
So he begins to play, and Howe’s jaw just hits the ground. He stands and watches him for a minute. Then Michael gives him a cassette of Aerial Boundaries. As he is walking away, we overhear Howe say to his roadie, “That guy was fucking unbelievable!” Michael was walking on air the rest of the day.
OTHER VOICES, OTHER INSTRUMENTS
MICHAEL MANRING He always talked about wanting to find a drummer we could play with and having a band. We tried it a couple of times. Something about that was really hard for him, but I never quite figured out what it was. I’d offer to bring some drummers up, and he would get excited about it but then change his mind.
Sometimes when we played with a group of people, he would get lost, kind of buried. The amazing things that he did were often the more subtle things that made you listen more deeply. It was hard to hear those things in a big group.
When Michael and I played together, we just never seemed to get in each other’s way. There was always plenty of room. It was certainly a thrill to play with him. It was like a conversation, and we would always get into something deep right away. Sometimes we wouldn’t play together for a few months, and then we’d play a gig and just be right back continuing that musical dialogue barely saying hello. It’s too bad he didn’t play with more people; he was such a treat to play with. He was a great listener. Everything was different every night. For a guy who “didn’t improvise,” he was a better improviser than almost anyone I’ve met. He wasn’t a jazz player, but he always found some new place to take the music. And it always seemed appropriate, perhaps reflecting something that had happened that day. He was definitely somebody who was fully awake.
PATTI CATHCART (Windham Hill recording artist, with Tuck and Patti) Michael and I sang together one time at Stanford. I can’t remember what songs we did, because we literally were just jamming–we were by the skin of our teeth. I’ve always been a complete fan of Michael’s vocal style; I love the way he sang. I know it was always hard for him to get Windham Hill behind him on his vocal projects. We all played together just last September in Chicago and Montalvo [Los Gatos, California]. His singing had just gotten more beautiful. He was playing the hell out of the guitar and singing like an angel.
TUCK ANDRESS I remember in the early days he was playing a lot of piano, which of course he wasn’t doing later. He was good at that too! I remember talking to him one time back then, and he seemed bemused at the fact that he had really gotten over doing this acoustic guitar and singing thing. He said he loved doing that, but that was just one of the things that he did, and that it just worked. This was just when he was beginning to get a lot of notoriety. He said he would “definitely ride this thing out and go for it, but somewhere along the line I’m going to do some of these other things that are equally interesting to me.” So we never really got to hear a lot of those other things. But he had quite a variety of talents.
LARGER THAN LIFE
TOM LARSON (tour manager 1995–1997) I probably saw Michael in concert for the first time in ’88 or ’89. I was blown away by the bigness of his live guitar sound. At that point, I thought, “This is someone I would be interested in working with.” He played voicings that you didn’t normally hear on guitar. Also the color and the sonorities were part of what attracted me to his music in the first place.
I feel really rather spoiled and lucky and fortunate that I got to hang out with him for the last couple of years. We did about four tours and some summer dates. We did a couple of openers for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and that was a real treat. We went to Brazil. That was interesting. I met him in Brazil, and he showed up with no hair. He had had this helmet made [seen on the cover of Oracle] with holes to stick his hair through, and then he goes and cuts his hair all off. We did four nights in Brazil. It was fun to see how strong the response was. He was doing the Peter Gabriel tune “Talk to Me,”and I think he was doing “Pinball Wizard.” The last two weeks we were out on tour he was doing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” He was doing it on the harp guitar. Normally on the harp guitar he had five strings in the bass section, but for that tune he had to wire up a sixth string. He had gotten an extra tuning machine from Steinberger that he liked, and he put it on. At the intermission he would have the monitor tech undo that string so it wouldn’t goof him up in the next set when he had to play “Because It’s There,” one of the harp guitar features.
Michael was incredibly particular about his monitor mix. When I started out with him he had two wedges down front so he’d get that nice stereo imaging. Then he’d have two more speakers behind him that were usually in mono. Towards the end, those speakers became stereo, and then he wanted stereo side fills as well. So he’d end up having this huge six-speaker system on stage, so that wherever he went on stage, he was literally inside his sound. He also would want reverb in the monitors. It ended up working really well, and the guitar sound in the front of the house at the Baltimore Artscape Festival  was the biggest sound I ever heard from any acoustic guitar in my life. I just remember sitting there and thinking, “This is really fun.” There were probably five to eight thousand people out on the hill that day. Later that day we came back and listened to Tito Puente and grinned from ear to ear and danced. Later that night he showed me his old haunts in Baltimore.
WIDE-EYED AND WILD
ALEX DE GRASSI Michael was known to have his eccentricities, but underneath it all one senses he was still that wide-eyed, somewhat innocent Oklahoma boy.
TOM LARSON He had his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, but he also had a really solid sense of where his family was. It was always a treat whenever his mom would come to shows; she would bribe us for good seats with cookies and stuff like that. So he had a bit of both senses, but it was that innocence that was great. One of the things that I thought he did really well–whether with fans after a show, with promoters, or with me–was the way he had of making you feel, at that moment, like you were the center of the world, that you were the focus of his utmost attention. He gave himself completely to whoever he was talking to, or to whatever he was talking about. If we were talking casually or listening to a Rolling Stones song or a Prince song, he was totally able to go into that moment. That’s the way he looked at life–go for every moment. He was curious about everything–somewhat innocent, but it never seemed to hurt him.
He wanted to fly if the drive was over three hours. Part of his regimen was making sure he had time to do his yoga every day, so sometimes he’d end up doing it at the airport. He had this rug, and he’d sit there by the gate while everyone else was sitting in those chairs. He’d be on the floor doing these stretches on his rug or rolling around on this nine-inch–diameter spiked blue ball. He was definitely eccentric. One thing his success gave him–and he was never a wealthy man–was that he made enough money in his career so that he never had to do anything he didn’t want to do. He was always pretty much able to do the music that he wanted to do, and call it what he wanted.
During the last couple of tours he was really into his Chinese meditation and the theory of five elements. The song “Oracle”was originally called “The Fusion of the Five Elements.” It has five specific sections that deal with water, fire, earth, wood, and metal. The song keeps repeating that cycle. He was exploring that along with the Chinese herbs. He’d go to that side of his personality on some nights. Other nights, say in a club, it would be a looser vibe and he might decide to have a white Russian or a shot of tequila–although he would just kind of sip it and maybe drink half of it, just to be in the culture.
JOHN STROPES Michael’s music came from a deep source within himself. He was a very spiritual person, and his music embodied profound things for people. Music was not his life. More than anyone he realized that music was about life. He felt driven to be a composer; he had that talent. But it was by expressing what was going on in his life that his music had such an ability to move people.
WILL ACKERMAN My memory of Michael is much more of the guy than the musician. He was such a character . . . truly the only one of those on the planet. He seemed to embrace all aspects of life evenly. There didn’t seem to be the division in him between good and evil. Whatever it was, it was fascinating to him. He seemed to embrace the gutter as well as the sun with an equal amount of fascination. I always kind of admired him for that.
MICHAEL MANRING Whenever I hung out with him, big things happened. Whether it was ridiculous, tragic, or inspiring, big things would always happen. He lived his life with so much intensity. Every experience was magnified. I would worry about him sometimes. He used to love to walk on those cliffs by his place in Mendocino [California]. That’s just how he lived his life: on the edge.
RANDY LUTGE Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Remembrances of trips to Lake Tahoe, being woken in the morning to share a newly scribed “Rickover’s Dream,”andjoining him for a trip to the Grammies when Aerial Boundaries was nominated [Best Engineered Record]. Sometime last spring, about ten in the evening, I got a call. It was Michael. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, could he stop by? We spent an hour or so together, catching up on our lives. We played a song or two together, and he reminded me of some chording he had taught me years earlier for Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Mike was not only good to listen to, he was good at listening, and would always turn a conversation about what was happening for him into inquiries about his friends’ lives. Very special, deeply missed.
TOM LARSON I last saw Michael after a gig at Club Bené [in New Jersey]. We were back at the hotel with Evan Brubaker, the monitor engineer and a good singer-songwriter in his own right, and Karen Haskell, who was driving and selling merchandise. The four of us sat around and just talked and had a great time. Michael had this crystal with him. It was probably 12 inches long and four inches in diameter–big white crystal, probably weighed about 25 pounds. He had picked it up about two weeks earlier, and he was sitting there talking about pumping crystal and lifting it over his head. It was sort of a joke, but he was sort of serious, and he was talking about how he was going to get himself in shape and we were having some good yucks. And then, all of a sudden, he pulls out the Tao Te Ching and reads something that was terribly profound and funny:
If you realize that all things change
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
The next morning his girlfriend Janet came down from Long Island to pick him up, and we all said good-bye. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Best tour yet. We really got it on this one.” And he was genuinely the happiest I’d ever seen him.
There is a Michael Hedges memorial fund available at:
Children of Michael Hedges, c/o Bank of America, 228 North Main Street Fort Bragg, CA 95437 USA
There are several good Web sites devoted to the memory of Michael Hedges. The official site is www.nomadland.com. Another interesting fan site can be found at www.rootwitch.com.
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.
Frozen branches overhead, snowy drives in the evening, and the quiet of a snow covered landscape. Winston invokes all of these on his landmark album December. While Winston named his compositions after moments in time – months or seasons, he was really playing music about places – creeks, and trees, passes and roads in Montana and the high-plains and prairies.
The music holds up year-round thanks to its simplicity and beauty. Even the carols are stripped down enough that they can be enjoyed even as we endure the heat of a July afternoon. In his discography, December stands as a crowd-pleaser – neither as resonant and redolent as Autumn, nor as cold and brittle as the first side of Winter Into Spring. December is an album that inspired a million insipid imitators, yet always maintains a beautiful and thoughtful poise; relaxed, yet energetic.
December is often incorrectly identified as the album that made Windham Hill Records a crossover success. That honor goes to George Winston’s Autumn, which sold millions of copies and was the breakthrough success for the label. That being said, December was another high-tide mark for the label, and laid the groundwork for the extraordinarily popular Winter Solstice series.
It is curious that with all of the detailed credits, there is no listing of which brand of piano is played by by George Winston. According to engineer Harn Soper, Winston used a Yamaha grand for Autumn. Based on the sound, I would imagine it was another Yamaha for this recording. It should also be noted that in the recoding of Autumn, Winston would indeed drop and pickup in mid-song, only to be edited together later. This saves an enormous amount of time during the recording section, and I certainly can’t hear it in the recordings, which is remarkable given that Winston will often hold the sustain pedal down throughout an entire song, and the reverberations must undoubtably be different as he plays through a track different times.
Side One: 20:56
Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head 2:40 – An Appalachain carol of the late Eighteen Hundreds, Collected by the eminent folklorist John Jacob Niles.
Carol of the Bells – A Nineteenth Century Ukranian carol.
— Part One: Snow 1:51
— Part Two: Midnight 1:56
— Part Three: Minstrels 2:00
Minstrels was inspired by St. Basil’s Hymn, a traditional Greek Children’s New Years’s Carol based upon a rendition by Malcolm Dalglish.
Side Two: 18:18
Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel 5:21 – Composed circa 1699, the Kanon was originally an organ piece.
The Holly and the Ivy 4:52 – An Eighteenth Century English carol based upon an earlier French carol.
Some Children See Him 3:43 – Composed in 1951 by jazz trumpeter Alfred S. Burt (1921-1954), Some Children See Him was one of fifteen carols written as gifts for friends. The piece was originally a song with lyrics by Wilha Hutson expressing the universal love of children.
All other compositions are traditional and in the public domain.
Special Thanks to Steven Miller and Cathy Econom for their valuable contributions in production.
This recording was mande direct to two-track using a Studer A 80 VU MK III half-inch recorder at thirty inches per second. No noise reductin was employed. KEF speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.
There is a great wealth of traditional and contemporary music to draw from in doing an album for the winter season. These four albums have been most inspirational to me in conceiving of this album and in doing albums for the seasons.
Thanks to Doc Bochenek, Larry Boden, Mario Cassetta, Janea Chadwick, Megan Corwin, John Creger, George Cromarty, Jane Crosier, Alex de Grassi, Melissa Dufffy, Sylvan Grey, Howard Johnston, Gail Kennedy, Jerrol Kimmel, Silvia Kohan, Marin Moon, Steve Reich, Bola Sete, Sari Spieler, Liz Story, Marie Winchester
Selections from the Windham Hill Records Album Catalogue
Windham Hill was truly hitting its stride in 1981-82. It took four years for Ackerman to release the first nine Windham Hill Albums, and of those, only six remained in print. Numbers 14-23 came in just over a single year, and each became a defining album for the label – either the first release of important new artists such as Liz Story, or genre-establishing discs like Alex de Grassi’s Clockwork. Sampler ’82 excises one track from each of the nine discs that Windham Hill released since the initial sampler came out in 1981.
Side One opens with the rather somber “Remedios” and continues in a generally solemn vein throughout the side, with Hedges’ “The Happy Couple” being the happy exception. Side Two picks things up a bit, and ends with the upbeat “Clockwork,” an ensemble piece which will be familiar to any Windham fan today thanks to its appearance on countless samplers since its initial release.
Ackerman was enraptured with the new digital technology of the time – his album Passage was one of the first commercial digital releases in the world. Each of the tracks here were remastered in digital – at some expense to the dynamics, detail and warmth of each of the recordings. Indeed, only “The Happy Couple” benefits from the increased detail and brightness of the remastering. Nonetheless, unless you’re a die-hard vinyl fan with a revealing system, the sound quality is still excellent.
In the end, I’m sure Sampler ’82 has its fans – it was the first introduction to many of these artists for many tens of thousands of people. However, the album is a broad overview rather than a cohesive statement of where the label was at the time, and each of the albums represented are strong and complete on their own. Nonetheless, while I do hesitate to second-guess Ackerman’s selections, for the modern listener, I would recommend you skip this one and buy the individual albums from the era. Sampler ’82 is an important snapshot of Windham Hill’s development, but not necessarily the place to start as a listener.
All of the recordings included in the Windham Hill Sampler ’82 are thirty inches per second, no noise reduction analog masters with the exception of “Remedios” which is a digital recording. This collection was transferred to digital and mastered as a digital recording to maintain the sound quality of the master recordings. KEF speakers were used in audio referencing.
There’s a certain simplicity in any art that it takes a master to achieve. Whether it’s the quick study in a notebook that a Picasso or Matisse can use to convey motion, mood and sentiment, or the way an actor can almost imperceptibly move their face to convey a deep undercurrent of emotion, it’s a skill that is highly underrated.
Winter Into Spring is the third George Winston album released, his second on Windham Hill, and the 19th Windham Hill album. Winston’s “Autumn” had given Will Ackerman a new level of financial freedom to fuel his artistic vision.
From the time “Winter Into Spring” first dropped onto the turntables of George Winston fans everywhere, there was a sense that some portions of the songs “were so simple a child could play them.” The magic is that they were so simple that no child actually would play them. And those few bars that were so noticeable in their simplicity and purity soon gave way to Winston’s lushly chromatic songs. Truly, it takes a mature artist to be able to strip down a song, and still have a complex and lingering effect. Songs that drew from classical and jazz traditions, but mainly the beautiful and deceptively simple traditions of folk music. Comparing the two albums is necessary, as so many millions of copies of Autumn have been sold, but it’s also problematic, in that Autumn has a different emotional appeal, much as the seasons themselves draw on different aspects of the listener’s experience. Where “Autumn” is all amber hues and slowly changing colors, “Winter Into Spring” is crisp footsteps in the snow, cold moonlit nights, and then finally the burst of weak radiance of a Spring sun and wild mustard flowers. As always, Winston finds inspiration not just in the seasons, but as the seasons exist in the plains states – Montana in particular.
To this reviewer, “Winter Into Spring” is now my go-to Winston album, if only because I’ve heard “Autumn” so many times that it’s hard to have any perspective on it any more. But the other factor is that as I’ve matured, I’ve also appreciated the development of maturing artists more. “Winter Into Spring” reminds us all of the universal edict that it takes the longest to get to the simplest solutions. Winston’s playing on later albums will simplify even more – but for me “Winter Into Spring” is the right place for my ear and mind right now.
Harn Soper, who recorded “Autumn,” tells me that Winston would press down on the sustain pedal near the beginning of a song, and just keep his foot down, with the slow decay of the notes blending into the next key. This is what gives Winston’s composition a richness that was missing from so many solo pianists, and helped him define the genre of “new age” solo piano. There is plenty of that subtle density of sound here still.
This recording was made direct to two track using a Studer A 80 VU MKIII half-inch recorder at 30 inches per second through a Harrison board. The Yamaha C-70 piano was miked with a matched pair of Neumann U-67 microphones, a pair of Neumann KM 84 microphones and an AKG 451 EB was used as an ambient microphone. No noise reduction or reverberation was employed.
Thanks to Megan Gorwin, Scott Cossu, Alex de Grassi, Cathy Econom, Silvan Grey, Daniel Hecht, Michael Hedges, Paul Horn, Jerrel Kimmel, Steve Reich, L Subramaniam, and thanks to Bola Sete for his inspiration and specifically for his arrangement of Ocean Waves from his guitar LP “Ocean” Lost Lake Arts 82.
This is the first reference I have ever seen to Quiex Vinyl – a virgin vinyl compound with superior sound qualities. The Classic Records re-issue label uses the current formulation of Quiex extensively. I have several Blue Note and Led Zeppelin pressings using Quiex SVP from Classic that all sound great. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate the manufacturer – if you know, let me know so that I can properly credit them.
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.
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.
Share your thoughts, memories or experiences with this album using the comments field at the bottom of this post.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”