Brothers – Will Ackerman, Jeff Oster, and Tom Eaton. Featuring: Will Ackerman (guitars), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn and trumpet), and Tom Eaton (piano, electric keyboards, bass, percussion). Released in the fall of 2021.
A review by Colin Glassey – March, 4, 2022.
As soon as I heard this record, I knew I was listening to something special, but now, after four months of careful listening, I’m convinced this is not just good, not just great, but a pinnacle of musical expression.
These three artists have managed to express – in music – feelings which I have never felt before. Listening to the music I feel a strange mix of sadness, longing, anticipation, and hope. In my opinion, the reason why this music is without parallel is because it is an honest and deeply felt expression of the emotions many of us felt as the pandemic swept over the world.
The pandemic of 2020 to 2022 is a unique event in world history, nothing like it had ever happened before. Oster, Eaton and Ackerman, have done something no one has ever done before, they have put in music some of the feelings of that strange time.
I cannot say if this was intentional on their part, but I can say these three men are true artists and this music is from the heart. I mean that it is heartfelt in the most sincere way. This music has pain and sorrow within it. I do not argue the music is sorrowful, as it is expressing very complex feelings, not just sorrow but also a bit of joy, and a fair measure of happiness, which comes through in the delightful way the three work together to create this deeply moving music.
Let me now talk about the music as music. The centerpiece here is Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn. He has perfected a style of playing on this record where his notes seem to appear out of nothing. His notes are pure breath, they swell up and then they go away, like the sound of a breeze through the forest. I’ve never heard anyone play a horn instrument quite like this, though I’ve heard Steve Roach play synthesizers with a similar type of undetectable attack, where a note builds up out of silence and you can’t be quite sure when the note began or when it ends. Oster’s playing forms the emotional core of this music and I am in awe of his achievement here.
William Ackerman has been a pivotal figure in the genre of New Age Music, since he first started Windham Hill records back in 1976. I first heard Will Ackerman perform in the winter of 1979-80 and I have been a fan ever since (more than 40 years). I’ve seen Will in many concerts and I own essentially all his records. I think the six records Will recorded from 1977 to 1988 are works of musical genius and essential for every library. On this record, Will’s guitar acts as a counterpoint to Oster’s flugelhorn, sonically and emotionally. Ackerman as a master at playing a small repeated pattern of notes with great sensitivity and expressiveness. In his youth, he played these patterns of notes alone, but he soon found that his songs worked a bit better in conjunction with another instrument. On this record, Ackerman’s guitar figures are usually in the background, adding rhythmic stability and a feeling of anticipation.
Finally we have Tom Eaton, whose piano is usually adding small phrases to match Oster’s horn lines. On two of the pieces near the end of the record, Eaton plays a bass alongside Oster’s horn, adding a darker quality to the tonality of the music. Eaton also adds some very light touches of synthesizer to the songs and he gets the credit for recording, arranging, and mixing the music. Given that this record is a masterpiece, Tom Eaton’s contribution is worthy of the highest praise. Great job, Mr. Eaton!
I think all of the songs from this record can be found on YouTube – Jeff Oster created many videos for the songs using interesting photos and phrases. I will link to one here, but I humbly urge everyone to buy this record. Great artistry like this deserves to be financially rewarded. Do not stream music, buy CDs!
I close with this: In the future, when someone asks me What was it like to live through the Global Pandemic of 2020? I will say: Listen to the record Brothers, it will tell you what that time felt like.
About the author: Colin Glassey first started listening to Windham Hill records in the fall of 1979. Working as a DJ at KDVS radio station, he always played selections by Windham Hill artists in his weekly radio show. He attended many concerts by Windham Hill artists over the years, including William Ackerman, George Winston, and Michael Hedges performing at the Great American Music Hall in 1981. In 1995 he created one of the first webpages devoted to Windham Hill records at the (now defunct) website Teleologic.com. (Wayback link here).
Arriving March 4, 2022 is a new album, Positano Songs from William Ackerman, the guitarist, producer and founder of Windham Hill records. So much Ackerman-produced music exists to evoke a place, whether that be the Montana countryside or a trip to Philadelphia, grounding music in a place evokes both nostalgia and a timelessness that is hard to resist, and has been an important component in developing Ackerman’s and Windham Hill’s ardent fan base.
Will’s music is most closely associated with New England and northern California where he lived and founded his label. But it’s clear that Positano, Italy is a place as close to his heart as any. The album is filled with love songs to the people and places in the town where he has spent so much time, made lifelong friends and married his bride.
Early fans often think of Ackerman as a solo artist because of the distinctive voice of his albums, but since Passage each of his albums has featured important collaborations. But of course the impulse to work with others has been clear from the beginning as a producer and more recently as a member of FLOW (with Fiona Joy, Lawrence Blatt and Jeff Oster) and the Grammy-nominated Brothers (with Jeff Oster and Tom Eaton). Indeed, this is the first new album of original songs since 2011’s New England Roads. On Positano Songs, only the opening track Nighttime in the Chapel is a solo piece. Ackerman’s compositions are sensitively supported and in conversation with some of his closest collaborators over the decades: Charlie Bisharat, violin; Noah Wilding, voice; Jeff Oster, Flugelhorn; Eugene Friesen, cello; Tom Eaton, piano and bass.
The sample songs (which vary between Apple Music and Bandcamp) reveal a man who sounds relaxed and at peace while still contemplative. Fans of both his quietly tense work like “Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit” and gentler songs performed with FLOW will find every note feels like home, or at least home away from home, especially if that home is our own Positano.
For many years, Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton have been producing new music at Imaginary Road Studios. The output is huge and varied, but will feel familiar to fans of Windham Hill Records and Narada, but with fresh names, faces and compositions. Inspired by his own classic Windham Hill samplers, Ackerman has been releasing samplers from Imaginary Road under the name “The Gathering,” and the compilation downloads and CDs will introduce you to new artists and new worlds of music.
The Gathering CDs have been tough to come by recently, but now a new online Bandcamp shop makes all four compilations easy to sample and purchase on CD.
With artists like Masako, Jeff Oster, FLOW, Fiona Joy Hawkins, Kathryn Kaye, Todd Boston, Lawrence Blatt, and of course Ackerman himself, you’re sure to discover favorite new artists, and of course enjoy the sampler on its own merits as a walk through contemporary instrumental music.
From Ackerman: “Finally, my store is up and running! I am excited about it for a lot of reasons, but particularly I wanted to let you all know about THE GATHERING CDs. When I owned Windham Hill Records I created collections that I called “ Windham Hill Samplers.” These featured one piece off of every record we released within a year so that people could get acquainted with a group of brilliant new musicians. Likewise, THE GATHERING albums offer the music of a new generation of musicians I have produced. I am sure you will love being introduced to many of these brilliant new musicians. I also have a few of my own albums at the store now and there will be more released soon. https://williamackerman.bandcamp.com/
George Winston is touring North America on the heels of the May release of his new album Restless Wind. Washington, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and Michigan will all see him bring his show to intimate theaters before the end of the year. George has toured fairly continuously over the years and his live shows are a joy for any fan: the ability to hear classics like Colors/Dance conjured up right in front of you is a treat that shouldn’t be missed.
See full tour dates here: http://www.georgewinston.com/concerts/
For a taste of George in concert, see his 2013 show in California’s Lesher Center.
New Dual SHM CD Edition from Japan’s Belle Antique Records
2019 sees a new CD release of Shadowfax’s Watercourse Way. The Japanese label Belle Antique includes both the original Passport Records edition, and the remastered Windham Hill edition, including original artwork replicas. The CDs can be found at CD Japan.
EDIT: Since this was published, Liz seems to be recovering, and is appreciative for all of those who donated to her medical expenses and sent warm thoughts. I will leave the post up, but delete the donation links as they have closed.
If you’ve ever loved Liz’s music, now is the time to come through for her.
“Pianist/composer, three-time Grammy nominee, LIZ STORY, (Windham Hill recording artist) is undergoing emergency brain surgery.
She was diagnosed with bilateral subdural hematomas which are putting so much pressure on her brain, that, once on stage, she could not remember how to play the piano at a performance Friday night at the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) in Phoenix, AZ.”
Like many artists, she has no health insurance and has spent years caring for others.
My dear friend, pianist/composer, three-time Grammy nominee, LIZ STORY, (Windham Hill recording artist) is undergoing emergency brain surgery this morning after being diagnosed with bilateral subdural hematomas which are putting so much pressure on her brain, that, once on stage, she could not remember how to play the piano at a performance Friday night at the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) in Phoenix, AZ. Rest assured exceptional neurosurgeons are doing all they can to help Liz and we remain hopeful of a positive outcome.
Liz’s husband died due to complications from injuries he sustained after being struck in a rear-end collision.
Liz then selflessly left her home and music studio in Prescott, AZ for 6 years, to single-handedly care for her parents in Los Angeles, both of whom suffered from dementia, and who passed in their late 90s. Liz has never financially recovered from the loss of her husband and subsequent debt, and from her absence from her work, in order to care for her parents. She really could use all the help she could possibly have! Hopefully, she’ll be able to use a debt payoff planner to help her with sorting through her debts and keeping on top of them.
As is true for many musicians, she has no health insurance; and, her home became severely run down in her absence; she hasn’t been in a position, financially, to repair the plumbing, broken refrigerator and various other major problems so there are multiple ways in which you can donate to her fundraisers on the likes of GoFundMe as well as other platforms. She paid a contractor thousands to work on her house while she was in Los Angeles caring for her parents, only to find shoddy, sub-standard work when she returned.
If you can find it in your hearts to help, no donation is too great, or too small. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for your generosity.
There’s lots of Windhaming on Facebook! I regularly publish video clips from YouTube, news from artists, and observations. It’s a nice feed and reminder of old favorites and things going on with many of the artists. I publish roughly weekly, but really just when the mood strikes. So if you’ve been here, and not there, over the past year you’ve missed 52 posts.
I’m very pleased to announce that Grasstops will also be re-releasing the stunning 1982 solo guitar debut album of Windhaming friend Dennis Taylor – Dayspring. Windhaming is also scheduled to do the analog-to-digital conversion and the first listen indicates this will be a treat for Windham Hill fans.
Grasstops is the brainchild of guitarist Kyle Fosburgh, a brilliant young guitarist and label founder. His playing starts where Basho and Fahey ended, and he perfectly captures a gorgeous combination of darkness and light, complexity and gentle beauty.
In other Windham Hill related artists, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jeff Pearce. Jeff worked with Ackerman, and the album covers certainly show they have the same taste in design… but the music pushes farther in to ambient territory, while remaining accessible to new age fans. In my book, he’s doing work on the level of Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There’s just no higher praise.
I saw George Winston live! Like many fans, Winston’s Autumn is what started me on Windham Hill. I’ve heard the album too many times, and just don’t enjoy it like I used to. But live? There’s so much there. Winston always stretched out (the last time I saw his was 1985). In the absence of new material, seeing George play live is an absolute must for any fan. Gorgeous and better than he was on the albums, even recent ones.
I saw Alex de Grassi and Michael Manring live! Seriously, it kills me that these folks aren’t selling out huge halls, Both artists are better than ever. Just outstanding live performers. I spend a fortune on music, but as Shadowfax’s GE Stinson passionately argues on his Facebook page, the current music industry is bad for artists and therefore bad for music – if there’s no money to be made on Spotify or iTunes, and CD sales are down, where will the money come from? Vinyl lovers like me are growing their purchases by 30-40% every year… but I doubt we’ll ever be more than 5-10% of total music purchases.
Of course, Windham Hill is not my only musical interest, sometimes I’m chasing other labels – like Blue Note, Concord Jazz and Erased Tapes. Windhaming readers will likely enjoy the work of Nils Frahm, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Olafur Arnalds on the Erased Tapes label.
Why did it take so long to publish Liz Story’s Unaccountable Effect?
I created the site when I was between work in 2009, and had a lot more time. My clients have been keeping me quite busy, but a few weird things conspired for this post. First, I absolutely love the album and wanted to do it justice. I got Liz Story’s email after a show a couple of years back and hoped to get some comments from her on the album – alas, no response ever came. I also happened to drop my copy and scratch up side 2, which meant more time passed before I picked up another copy at Amoeba. Finally, I just realized I was letting perfection be the enemy of the good, and decided it was time to publish another page. The original intention of the site was simply to publish liner notes. Wanting to do a good job just slowed me down.
Shadowfax is the eponymous second release from the atmospheric fusion group, and the twenty-second release on Windham Hill. With a strong Asian and Native American influence on the music, there is a different feel to this release than the folk, classical and chamber jazz releases of their label-mates. And while this is fusion and not rock – there are rock underpinnings throughout the album. While this release isn’t as dynamic as all later albums, there is a drive and flow that comes through even on the quietest tracks.
As for the sound – this recording is an excellent litmus test of your system. While you can enjoy the music anywhere, it will sound compressed and more like atmospheric background music than the eastern-inspired jazz that it is. If you play the vinyl and your system doesn’t sound detailed and dynamic, then your system could use some extra resolving power. You can follow each instrument throughout every song and each piece comes to life. Phil’s bass is tight and yet full-bodied, and the ever-present percussion sparkles throughout each track. When I see someone dismiss this album as lacking any engagement or dynamics, I blame their reproduction of it, not the music. That being said, for the first 10 years I owned this album, I mainly played it on a home-made cassette through an old Sony receiver, and enjoyed it just as much as I do today.
As a bit of trivia, the closing sound on Vajra that I always took as a dog is actually Emil Richards dragging a rubber balled mallet over a marimba key, according to Phil Maggini in a 2013 Facebook comment.
Shadowfax members are active on the web, catch up with them on Facebook and MySpace.
Unfortunately, Stuart Nevitt, Chuck Greenberg and Bruce Malament have all passed away. Links to their obituaries are below.
New York Times Obituary for Chuck Greenberg: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/09/obituaries/chuck-greenberg-musician-dies-at-45.html
In a 2019 Facebook post, GE Stinson writes:
“Even though I have subjective personal issues with both albums (Shadowfax and Shadowdance), I like those records for different reasons. For us, the eponymous WH album was about focusing on a different aspect of our musical roots. Creating the music for both of those albums was an intense, wonderful experience, pivotal for the band, and done under a lot of pressure and stress. It’s a cliche but true that, at that point, Shadowfax was a family… with all the love, sadness, anger, forgiveness, etc that comes with any family.”
Stinson continues “The band had just reunited, we were able to record and do gigs so we were all happy about that. Each album had its own set of problems, struggles, and we were working with a very limited budgets but we made it work and, for the most part, we had fun.”
Joy Greenberg has written the biography “A Pause in the Rain” about Chuck, and maintains his web site: http://www.chuckgreenberg.com/cgindex.htm
You can find Joy’s site, and samples from her book here: http://www.joyhornergreenberg.com/jghome.htm She shares fascinating anecdotes and details about the band, as well as personal remembrances, in an easy engaging style; I highly recommend it for any Shadowfax fan.
Joy has generously permitted the reprint of an excerpt here:
Excerpt from “A Pause in the Rain” by Joy Greenberg:
There soon evolved a microcosmic musical community that could provide work for a lot of people. The timing was perfect—it became a little engine, allowing everyone to play and record with each other. Phil and Chuck became creatures of habit, starting a rehearsal schedule with a day-in-day-out routine, knowing the process was essential to their growth and viability as musicians. Robit did, indeed, manage to attract the backing of a label and cut the album Resident Alien with Chuck, Phil, drummer Stu Nevitt and guitarist G.E backing him up. By then Stu and G.E. had moved out from Chicago and were rehearsing with Chuck and Phil in a variety of bands, including one fronted by another old friend from the Windy City, Morris Dollison, aka Cash McCall. The Cash McCall band featured all the blues songs, like “Sweet Home Chicago,” the guys had grown up listening to and playing.
“It was through this musical network that Chuck’s—and Shadowfax’s—Big Break arrived. Robit had met another guitarist, Alex de Grassi, in London, where he was playing music in the streets, subways and folk clubs during the summer of ’73. Robit had kept in touch with Alex and had been urging him to collaborate somehow with Chuck.
Meanwhile, Alex had established himself as the premier solo instrumental guitarist on the seminal New Age label, Windham Hill. As Windham Hill cofounder Will Ackerman’s cousin, Alex was in an influential position, something that did not go unnoticed by Chuck. He admired Alex’s artistry and was eager to meet him. The feeling was mutual; Alex sent Chuck the tape of a guitar part to a new piece he was working on and invited Chuck to contribute a lyricon part. Chuck was only too happy to oblige. Then one day in the latter part of ’81, Chuck, Robit and I drove up to San Francisco from L.A. in Ruby. I dropped them off at Alex’s house in Noe Valley and went out to visit some friends while Chuck and Alex rehearsed some tunes for Alex’s upcoming album Clockwork. When I returned later, I heard a gorgeous melody emanating from Alex’s as I parked the car in front. It was the song, “Clockwork.”
Alex was impressed as well. They ended up recording two pieces. “Everybody went apeshit,” Alex said.
Indeed, they did. It seemed that all who heard Chuck’s lyricon were enchanted. Alex’s album Clockwork scored a big hit on radio and at retail, as well as with the powers at Windham Hill. As a result of its success, Chuck was emboldened to propose an album to Will Ackerman, who initially believed that Chuck wanted to do a solo project. Chuck’s task became convincing Will that what Will really wanted was a Shadowfax album, something he managed to accomplish without Will’s ever hearing the band play.
Chuck sensed that Will would not approve of the “outside,” heavily electrified, screaming-for-attention tunes that had been recorded by Shadowfax on Watercourse Way. It just didn’t jibe with the primarily acoustic, mellow, laid back sounds for which Windham Hill was gaining recognition. And Chuck knew better than to invite Will to a showcase and see this “electric fusion monster quartet”—the antithesis of Windham Hill music—live. It would have been an invitation to disaster, sending the self-avowed hater of electronic music running for cover. Will’s interest in recording Chuck was based upon Chuck’s essentially acoustic approach to Alex’s record Clockwork. To accept this offer on the basis of Will’s perception, completely ignoring the nature of his label’s musical direction, and to present him with an electric manifesto, would have been unfair to him and deal suicide. No, meeting and hearing Shadowfax was definitely not the way to get a deal with Will.
However, the band had a card up its sleeve—one it could play without any negative sense of compromise or loss of musical integrity. There had always been an acoustic side of the band that they very much enjoyed but that was never allowed to come to fruition. Now they simply took advantage of the opportunity to explore it further, creating a discipline that was at once challenging and creative. Chuck figured out how to convince Will that Shadowfax would be the perfect ensemble addition to the label’s roster of solo artists.
Fortunately, Will Ackerman was so smitten by Chuck’s lyricon from the moment he heard it that he was willing to go ahead with Chuck’s plan to record. “Suddenly there was this indescribable, ethereal sound,” Will said. He and Alex were sitting in a park in Silicon Valley, listening to “Clockwork,” and this “unbelievable sound, the music of angels.” Alex told him that “the angel responsible for this sound was one Chuck Greenberg, and that the instrument was called the lyricon.” When Chuck joined Alex in concert at the Great American Music Hall, Will was there, and “there was that sound of angels again.” After the show he spoke with Chuck, who promptly told him about Shadowfax, and it was decided, more or less on the spot, to record a Shadowfax album.
At first, I was incredulous that Chuck would want to go to all the extra trouble to get the band back together: At this point I had never heard them play live.
“Why bother with them when you have the chance to do your own thing?”
“Because,” he said, “I will always have the opportunity to do my own thing, but I may not always be able to work with this band. And we never finished what we started out to say.”
Side One 18:02
Angel’s Flight 4:00 C. Greenberg
Vajra 4:20 G.E. Stinson
Wheel of Dreams 4:46 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
Oriental Eyes 4:56 P. Maggini
Side Two 16:23
Move the Clouds 3:08 G.E. Stinson
A Thousand Teardrops 4:15 C. Greenberg
Ariki (Hummingbird Spirit) 3:10 G.E. Stinson & C. Greenberg
Emil Richards: contra bass marimba, conga, Thai vibes on Ariki; kelon vibes anvil, gong on Oriental Eyes, contra bass marimba, rhythm logs, bell tree, tambourine on Vajra; vibes and crotales on Wheel of Dreams, windchimes and bells on Angel’s Flight. The percussion ensemble on Ariki was arramged by Emil Richards.
Alex de Grassi: 12 string acoustic guitar on the right channel of Vajra
Recorded in May and June of 1982 at Studio America, Pasadena, CA
Recorded and Mixed by Joe Pollard
Second Engineer: Max Reese
Assistant Engineers: Pitt Kinsolving and Shep Lonsdale
Original Half-Speed Mastering by Jack Hunt, JVC Cutting Center
Matrix and Pressing by Record Technology Inc., Camarillo, CA
Cover Photo by Greg Edmonds
Design by Anne Ackerman
This recording was made on a modified MCI JH 16 recorder at 30 inches per second, and mixed to a Studer Mark III half-inch two-track recorder, using no noise reduction, limiting or compression.
Thanks to Joy Horner, Dave Below, Marty Lishon, and World Percussion. Thanks also to Sherman Clay Pianos for the use of the Kimball Bosendorfer Grand Piano, and to Zeus Audio Systems. Special thanks to Joe Pollard, to Emil Richards for the magic, and to Windham Hill.
The first true ensemble album in the Windham Hill style – Clockwork really defined the label’s sound for the next several years. Alex de Grassi proves that not only is he one of his generations finest guitarists, he has a larger musical vision, ambition and extraordinary taste in collaborators. The players all bring both a technical and lyrical deftness to their parts, and as the album name implies, there is a musical interplay that creates a rhythmic whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Fans of de Grassi’s solo guitar work are rewarded on the second side with the Bougainvillea Suite opening – gorgeous and thoughtful guitar music.
Clockwork can be hard to find, and it is not the last word in either de Grassi’s or the label’s collective work, but it’s important as a new creative step in the genre-defining label, and a worthy listen in and of itself.
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or any of the musicians? Share it in the comments section below.
guitar, piano, percussion
Two Color Dream 6:25
guitar, fretless bass, soprano sax, drums
Graphic Design by Anne Ackerman
Cover Monoprint and Liner Photo by Anne Ackerman
All Compositions by Alex de Grassi
All Selections Tropo Music BMI
Administered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Manufactured by Windham Hill Music BMI
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
Michael Hedges was playing in a Palo Alto coffeeshop when William Ackerman heard him and signed him on the spot. Good move. Hedges is arguably the best acoustic guitarist to ever play, with apologies to Ackerman, de Grassi, Django Reinhardt and Bucky Pizzarelli.
“Breakfast in the Field” is Hedges’ first album, and the seventeenth Windham Hill release. It’s a deceptive album – what sounds simple has incredible technical skills behind it; what sounds pastoral becomes funky and urban. When the album came out, the buzz was not only that you had to hear Michael Hedges, but you had to see him playing. His style was so new and different that it made it seem as if the instrument had simply been waiting all these generations for its true master to come along. “Breakfast” gives you the first taste of the tremendous talent that Hedges developed before he died at the age of 43 in a car crash north of San Francisco.
Because “Breakfast in the Field” opens with two slow-paced songs, the casual listener could easily be fooled into playing the album quietly as background music. But turn it up, pay a little attention, and it will quickly become apparent just how much this 34-minute acoustic album can rock.
Michael Manring, who was so omnipresent on Windham Hill that it seemed as if he functioned as a house bassist, makes his first appearance here. George Winston, on the heels of “Autumn” and his successful contribution to William Ackerman’s “Passage” also performs here. In both cases, the effect is to complement and not overwhelm the immersive soundscapes created by Hedges.
In a 1987 concert, Hedges gives an introduction to “The Funky Avocado” that is revealing about his open-minded approach to composition and how he brought in so many influences to his work. Says Hedges: “This tune has a little bit of a cross cultural bent to it, but it has more of an American bent to it. from the time where I lived above a health food store just down the street from a gay disco called The Pink Hippopotamus. I used to be trying to write music up there, trying to… maybe it would be just after dinner and I’d be trying to get some work done, and The Pink Hippo was always sending me back ‘boom boom boom’ and maybe the bass line would come through, ‘bum Bum BUM bum Bum BUM,’ so rather than trying to compete with it, I decided to try to incorporate some of the elements. So that’s how ‘The Funky Avocado’ came about. It starts out with a medium R&B tempo, slows down into some heavy rock and it finishes up in a fit of disco fury”.
The sound quality is outstanding – Michael’s guitar is full of body and resonance, detailed, and all of one cloth. There’s an interesting side story regarding the guitar Hedges used for several of the tracks: “Eleven Small Roaches,” “Babytoes” and “Two Days Old”. As noted on Hedges’ memorialized “Nomadland” site: “If Michael’s art is driven by openness, the fates were on his side just after he finished The Road To Return. At a concert in Oregon in 1994, Michael was approached by a woman who returned a guitar to him which had been stolen from his van fifteen years earlier while opening for Jerry Garcia. The custom guitar (built by luthier Ken DuBourg and heard on much of Breakfast in the Field) was in dreadful condition, but Michael invested in its restoration and the instrument’s presence wound up becoming the inspiration for several of the tunes heard on Oracle.”
“As Michael points out, Oracle fits perfectly into the chronology of his own life—“The Road to Return was a search for ‘Who am I?’ Then my old guitar was returned and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is part of who I am.’ Now, I’m open. I have a feeling something new is on the horizon for me, because, after all, how many ways can you slap a guitar? Since I’ve been writing songs, I’m more conscious of the music I’m after. It shouldn’t be seen as a new phase of my playing, but just more of me.”
This is an essential recording for any guitarist, lover of acoustic music or Windham Hill.
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or Michael Hedges? Leave a comment below.
The Happy Couple 3:20
Eleven Small Roaches 3:00
The Funky Avocado 2:03
Baby Toes 2:10
Breakfast in the Field 2:24
Two Days Old 4:46
Peg Leg Speed King 3:20
The Unexpected Visitor 2:46
Silent Anticipations 3:23
Michael was a phenomenal live performer. Samples below are largely from concerts – he tells great stories about each song, and you get a sense of his showmanship.
This album was recorded without overdubs or multitracking on a MCI JH 110 A analogue two-track tape recorder at 30 inches per second through a Neve 8036 console with minimal equalization. No noise reduction was employed. The guitar was close-miked in stereo with a matched pair of AKG 452 EB condenser microphones in a cardioid pattern.
This album is dedicated to my teachers of composition: E. J. Ulrich who sent me on my way, Jean Ivey who let me go my own way, and Morris Cotel who asked me where I was going and why.
Thanks to Ervin Somogyi of Berkeley, CA who built the splendid guitar used on most of the tunes in this recording. Thanks also to Ken DuBourg of Arbutus, MD who made the guitar used on Eleven Small Roaches, Babytoes, and Two Days Old.