With Islands, Scott Cossu builds on the group efforts of his first two Windham Hill releases, with a star-studded group of collaborators. Mining much of the same territory as Spyro Gyra and the Pat Metheny group, Cossu adds a romanticism and sweetness that belies the genuine complexity and ambitious appropriation of influences. Islands is Cossu’s second release on Windham Hill, following Wind Dance.
If you’re coming new to Scott Cossu, you may be in for a treat. But for me, this is a tough album to review. I’ve heard the tracks that made it onto samplers (Ohana and Oristano Sojourn) too many times; they had lost freshness, and only hearing the non-sampler tracks allowed me to appreciate the album as a whole. The relatively flat and thin recording (when compared to other Windham Hill releases) doesn’t help. This was the early days of digital, and the recording doesn’t do justice to the amazing musicianship that courses throughout the album. What a treat to listen to the album anew.
After opening with the high-energy, if over-synthesized Ohana, Cossu fears nothing by delving into the near eight minute Gypsy Dance – wending its way from a quiet piano piece through a spirited two-step between piano and violin. St. Croix is a richly colorful and plaintive conversation between piano and horn, and Islands gives a cheery Caribbean vibe with the facile flute playing of Dave Valentin.
Cossu seems to save his more relaxed and experimental tracks for the second side, from the 7 minute crescendo of Harlequin Messenger to the pastoral Fawn, the feel is just right – searching, and with an optimistic, but not cloying or celebratory quality, Cossu’s musicianship and compositional skills shine.
I would call Islands underappreciated, but apparently it’s just me who was a late adopter. Both fans and critics celebrate Islands. You might, too. Thanks to the magic of YouTube and the very excellent WindhamHillLovers channel, you can listen for yourself below.
Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb courtesy of Antilles Records
Tom Varner courtesy of Soul Note Records
Special thanks to Will Ackerman, Anned Robinso, Steven Miller, Steve Lowy and all the people at Windham hill for their long and continued support. Also to my family, Robin, Jenny and our Creator.
Islands: Recorded on Manhattan, the most famous island, represents my progression of travels and my love of islands, their inspirations and the gypsy spirit within. May this music help unite us all as a family of islands.
(c) (p) Windham Hill Records, 1984.
<<note: liner notes taken from the Canadian release, WH-9-1033 – it’s just what I had on hand>>
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.
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.
With 1983’s Past Light, Will Ackerman expands on the collaborations that he began to explore in earnest on 1981’s Passage, for an album that melds Ackerman’s meditative style with a larger vision of dynamic group performances.
Past Light is Ackerman’s fifth solo album, and twenty-eighth Windham Hill release. He must have been in the thick of the Windham Hill explosion, and it shows in a number of ways: the incredible stable of artists with whom he collaborates (Mark Isham, Michael Hedges, Darol Anger, Stein/Walder, Greenberg and Szmadzinski from Shadowfax, even Bay Area neighbors Kronos Quartet); the continued development of an aesthetic for group performances of Windham Hill artists, first seen on albums like Alex De Grassi’s Clockwork; and a confidence to keep pushing his vision farther, while hewing to his unique style, born out of Fahey and Kottke, but by now all his own.
While it still has poignant moments, there’s less mournfulness on Past Light than was present on Passage. There is less Erik Satie contemplation and more Robbie Basho exuberance in emotion, though stylistically Ackerman is wholly his own man.
The album opens with “Visiting” which varies enough in pacing and dynamics so that listeners are engaged and relaxed, taken on a journey with many uplifting moments. Where George Winston and Alex De Grassi write songs that are evocative of specific places at a certain time (a stream in January, a trip to Philadelphia) and Michael Hedges songs are paeans to rhythms, harmonics and dynamics, Ackerman’s work always strikes me as being about mood in and of itself. Each piece seems to be about that feeling you get when… (fill in your own very personal blank here.) Less intense and immediate than Passage, but profoundly evocative.
The fact that the moods here are varied, and often include the golden sunshine of Chuck Greenberg’s Lyricon just makes Past Light appealing to a wider audience, and a friendlier play for stalwart fans. Overall, it feels like Will was in a really good spot. Emotionally, the album it feels most like is Ackerman’s 2011 New England Roads (my current favorite of all of his albums, dare I even say it, over In Search of the Turtle’s Navel, and available exclusively at Target).
“One always goes to great lengths at times like these to thank a phalanx of individuals for their contributions to the project as a whole. This will be no exception. Often the musicians who joined me on Past Light were given little more than a basic form in which to work, and it is no false modesty to to say that many of the compositions represented in these recordings are pure collaborations on the part of these friends and myself. To them I am sincerely grateful. I must also thank my co-producer, Steve Miller, for having the talent and vision that enabled me to try new ideas.”
This recording was made on a Studer 24 track recorder at thirty inches per second. No noise reduction or compression was employed. The recordings were mixed digitally on a Sony PCM 1600 system, Kef speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.
Thanks to Harn Soper for loaning “Rain to River” back to me to record and to Dan Snow for the dream that inspired “Night Slip”. Thanks to Ervin Somogyi for the construction of my newest six-string and to Adamas strings.
WH-1026 An Evening with Windham Hill Live featuring George Winston, Alex deGrassi, William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Liz Story, Scott Cossu, Darol Anger, Chuck Greenberg
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.
Side One 19:59
Rickover’s Dream 4:30
Michael Hedges – Guitar
Composed by Michael Hedges
Michael Hedges Music (BMI)
Turning: Turning Back 9:00
Alex deGrassi – Guitar
Composed by Alex deGrassi
Alex deGrassi – Guitar
Chuck Greenberg – Lyricon
Darol Anger – Violin
Michael Manring – Bass
Michael Spiro – Percussion
Composed by Alex deGrassi
Tropo Music (BMI)
Side Two 22:01
Spare Change 5:29
Michael Hedges – Guitar
Liz Story – Piano
Michael Manring – Bass
Composed by Michael Hedges
Michael Hedges Music (BMI)
Will Ackerman – Guitar
Chuck Greenberg – Lyricon
Michael Manring – Bass
Composed by Will Ackerman
Hawk Circle 5:10
Will Ackerman – Guitar
George Winston – Piano
Michael Hedges – Guitar
Composed by Will Ackerman
Reflections/Lotus Feet 6:25
George Winston – Piano
Reflections Composed by George Winston
Windham Hill Music (BMI)
Lotus Feet Composed by John McLaughlin
Warner Tamerlane Publishing Corp. and Chinmoy Music Inc. (BMI)
Liner Notes and Credits
Produced by William Ackerman
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.
Chief Executive Officer
Windham Hill Productions Inc.
Engineered and Mixed by Steven Miller
Recorded by the Fedco Audio Labs Remote Truck
Remote Recording Crew – Bill Straus (Crew Chief), Nick Gutfreund and Bob Dickson.
Mixed at Different Fur Studios, San Francisco
Assistant Engineer – Don Mack
Original half-speed mastering by Bernie Grundman, A&M
Matrix and Pressings by The Pressing Plant, Irvine, CA
Cover photo by Jerry Lukowicz
Design by Anne Ackerman Robinson
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.
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