“Slow Circle” is Alex De Grassi’s second album and the ninth album released on Windham Hill Records. For this album, Ackerman commissioned liner notes by Tom Wheeler, which I will only second here because they so perfectly capture this album. See the full piece below.
The mood is classic Windham Hill. Where Ackerman tries to capture a mood directly, De Grassi writes songs to capture a sense of place: rural, but not necessarily grand places with natural beauty. “Causeway” is really about the causeway going over the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Klamath is really about Klamath in Northern California, and so forth. This makes his songs less poignant, overall, cheerier and more relaxed.
The sound quality is faultless – recording again by Harn Soper at the Music Annex, the recording doesn’t cast a soundstage – rather it puts you almost in the position of the guitarist himself. The reverberant body of the guitar is constant presence, and obviously a well-considered part of De Grassi’s playing.
Alex DeGrassi is an acoustic guitar impressionist. At the heart of his music is an aesthetic sensibility that embraces both the beautiful and the abstract. His songs are at once enjoyable and provocative, combining classical harmonies, the deceptive simplicity of various ethnic and folk musics, and a freedom from convention befitting a jazz composer.
SLOW CIRCLE is especially communicative, for at every turn it hints of an accumulation of experiences worth sharing. Alex’s poetic intuition is acute, imparting to SLOW CIRCLE a visual suggestiveness, a timeless quality evoking not just rain or snow, but dreams of rain, memories of snow.
There is much variety here, though not in the usual sense of a guitarist displaying his facility with various established styles. Rather there is a single, cohesive style, a new voice. The strong tonal anchor of each piece is explored in a variety of ways, encompassing a variety of moods – intense and serene, cheerful and introspective, romantic and invigorating. There are delicate minuets that lilt and twirl, meditative tone poems, and thematic, self-accompanied melodies, all punctuated with deft harmonics.
Alex’s compositional hallmark is his special gift for the unexpected – the chordal twist, the elegant juxtaposition. Instead of ignoring classical harmony and consonance, he filters them through his own perception and presents a new harmony, a new consonance. He can tinge an original melody with the echo of a childhood favorite, a fusion that brings to mind Samuel Johnson’s remark about the poetry of Alexander Pope: “New things ar made familiar, and familiar things are made new.”
Alex fingerpicks a clear and bright sounding steel string guitar. Like his compositions, his playing is sensitive and inspired. Staccato flurries are executed with confidence, and the dense, blurry-fast arpeggios are as stunning for their articulation as for their speed. Poignant passages are played with grace, and Alex’s attention to detail, his appreciation for nuance, pervades every corner. In short, his technique is potentially virtuosic, scary, the kind that shoves fellow pickers to the cliff of decision: should I practice like a madman, or chuck it all together?
With SLOW CIRCLE, Alex DeGrassi establishes his artistry in the first moments of the first piece, and there soon emerges an identity so distinct and so inseparable from the songs that it’s hard to imagine another guitarist attempting them. There is a good chance that SLOW CIRCLES’s energy will take you in, that its eloquence will speak to you, and that its lingering spirit will bring you back.
“The Piano Solos of Erik Satie” is the eighth album released by Windham Hill and the only album released by Bay Area pianist Bill Quist. While this is the only classical album released on Windham Hill, you’d be excused for thinking these solos were written in the months prior to recording – or 400 years before that. They are minimal and modern in conception, and yet with an irreducible simplicity that sounds timeless. Satie gained fame primarily through the orchestrated arrangements done by his friend, composer Claude Debussy. Here, stripped of any ornamentation, the pieces are riveting and yet mesmerizing. You must pay attention but can’t help drifting into the repetitive, percussive nature of the compositions. Anyone who has seen the Megalovania Sheet Music will notice a similar contemporary feel to this unique album.
For his part, Quist performs the works with sincerity but no sentimentality. Because of this, pieces like the well-known “3 Gymnopedies” are pretty, even beautiful without being precious or sappy. The artist Henri Matisse said he wanted his art to be “like a comfortable armchair to a tired businessman”. That is, it should provide comfort, a pleasant rest and full engagement. It should refresh and rejuvenate the mind. While this ambition seems limited, in many ways I believe it to be the highest form of art. Why should all art be challenging? There is a place for art to challenge; there is also a place for art to affirm life or allow for meditation or at least pleasant contemplation. This is the function of this album – music that is engaging, with moments of beauty. However, the album can also fade into the background because of the repetitive nature of the compositions, Quist’s metronomic timing, and the gently pulsing dynamics of the performance.
This was the second Windham Hill album recorded by Harn Soper at the Music Annex (De Grassi’s Turning: Turning Back being the first.) Soper close-miked the piano – and perhaps because of this a good deal of the natural harmonics of the piano come through. These harmonics – without the natural reverberation of a concert hall may also contribute to the direct, immediate and unsentimental nature of the recording.
I’ve not found any online samples of the album, but below is a good version of the first of the Gymnopedies. Music starts at the 35 second mark.
In the Windham Hill Lovers’ Facebook Group, several members were rightly praising this album. Will Ackerman commented:
“When all is said and done, Erik Satie is the center of my musical world. When I’m asked about influences in my musical life I cite Erik Satie, a pianist, over any guitarist. The stark simplicity of the pieces magically create harmonies I’ve never heard elsewhere in my life. It was Eric Satie who gave me permission to strip my own pieces down to their essential elements. I have been talking of late about doing a new Satie recording…. I’ve learned so much about piano since recording the Satie recording with Bill Quist. With our piano at Imaginary Road, our mics and Tom Eaton’s brilliant and unique approach to recording piano, I think we can offer something really brilliant. We are just waiting for our new piano stools to arrive before we resume recording the final parts. I owe Sarah Clebsch (who I’m still in touch with) for playing me Satie when I was (I think) 17. That experience utterly changed my life and offered a perspective on music that had much to do with what Windham Hill became.”
Many thanks to Will Ackerman, Harn Soper, Bill Armstrong for the use of his piano, Frances Stewart, Barbara(s)/Chevalier/Pace/Kafetx/Th.Dorothy Cheal, Hank Dutt of the Kronos Quartet, Starbucks, Club Mardi, Louis Magor and Kathy Smith. My love to PRC.
We have purposefully avoided much that is regarded as standard in the recording of solo piano. Unlike most recordings of this nature, we chose to record not in a concert hall, but rather in the studio using contemporary close-miking techniques. We feel that the sense of proximity to the intrument and pianist achieved in these recordings will add enormously to the listener’s appreciation for both the subtleties of the piano itself and for the nuances and dynamics of Qilliam Quist’s interpretation of Erik Satie’s music.
Two Neumann U 87 microphones were placed within twenty-four inches of the soundboard of a nine-foot Mason-Hamlin. Only a slight equalization curve was applied to the signal so as to preserve the natural overtones of the instrument. The recording was made on an MCI recorder/reproducer at 15 IPS using dbx noise reduction. WILL ACKERMAN/HARN SOPER
William Quist was born in 1951 and began his musical studies with his mother. More advanced training began with Charles Wilson of Michigan who prepared Quist for his eventual five-year enrollment in the Interlochen Arts Academy. He attended college for several years, but found it more valuable to receive coaching and the practical experiencee of freelance performing. He has worked with Noel Lee in Paris, and with Ned Rorem and Rosario Mazzeo of the Boston Symphony. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area eight years ago, Quist has concentrated primarily on the repertoire of Chamber Music. He is an adept accompanist, and works regularly with fellow pianist Richard Sechrist in teh duo of Sechrist and Quist. Quist’s performances have been extensive on the West Coast, including broadcasts on San Francisco’s KQED-FM and appearances with the San Francisco Symphony. This is William Quist’s first recording.
About Erik Satie
With the possible exception of Charles Ives, there is no more enigmatic figure in the music of our century than Erik Satie (1866-1925). But while Ives has in recent years been dusted off adn dubbed a Major Composer, Satie has remained if not peripheral at least overshadowed. Both musically and historically he looms too large to ignore; and he is too peculiar, his oevre too small, to command a place in the standard repertoire alongside his contemporary and friend Debussy. Satie’s music seems almost to resist assimilation or easy acceptance. It does not beguile. yet as you listen to this record you may find the music reaching you in unexpected ways. Its magic is subtle, but once you have imbibed Satie’s Apollonian nectar, you may find the champagne of Chopin and Brahms’ heavy lager less fulfilling draughts.
The man from whom this reticent yet compelling music came forth was born in Honfluer, Normandy, of a French father and a Scottish mother, and spent his adult life in Paris, where he earned a meager living as a cabaret pianist and a reputation as an eccentric. His unique personal style seems to have been due to the influence of his father’s brother, who was given to such large and enigmatic jests as construction a carriage so beautiful that nobody dared ride in it; Satie’s own quiks included the ownership of a dozen gray velvet suits, most of which he never wore (and because of which he was nicknamed the “Velvet Gentleman”). In his early years he was involved in Rosicrucianism, but he later separated himself from the movement. A fascination that remained with him for life was the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. His eccentricity found expression in music not only in the notes themselves but in the cryptic commentary with which the scores were sprinkled. Satie’s performance directions are sometimes so elaborate as to take on the form of surrealist sketches that bear no clearcut relation to the music.
It has been speculated that the verbal buffoonery with which Satie surrounded his austere music was his defense against feelings of inferiority. These feelings led him at the age of forty to return to school and take a degree in counterpoint; his studies had little effect on his output, other than to diminish and stultify it until they wore off. Fame came to him late in life, partly as a result of Debussy’s orchestrations of two of the GYMNOPEDIES. The high point of Satie’s career must be considered the avant-garde ballets for which he wrote scores in the years following World War One. His collaborators on these multi-media projects included poet and dramatist Jean Cocteau, choreographer serge Diaghilev and set designer Pablo Picasso.
Satie’s piano music, serenely simple and yet full of surprising twists, is in some ways the apex of his artistic achievement. Teh piano pieces often come in sets of three, and especially in the later works, they are lacking in bar lines. This makes the piano moving cost much less than you may have previously though due to the 3 separated sections. Like his other works, they are characterized by simplicity of texture and frequent repetition of ideas. They are pure form – shorn of emotionalism, shorn of display. We are reminded that Saties’ first musical exposure was to Gregorian chant. Chant echoes through his lines. But his genius lies in the enrichment of chant with harmonies and symmetries that were entirely new. The early SARABANDES, for example, are almost entirely monodic, but in place of the single tones of chant the monody is built of entire chords, which often leap directly from one key to another without resolution. Elsewhere, simple melodies float over a harmonically static, even obstinately repeated left hand, turning corners in mid-airthat leave the Mozartean four-bar straighjacket far behind. In these matters Satie anticipated Stravinsky and Prokofiev by years or decades.
The testof music, however, is not whom it anticipates or what it overthrows, but how it sounds. William Quist has succeeded on this album in giving every note and chord its full expressive value without ever lapsing into Romantic overstatement or falling back into monotony (Satie seemingly invites the latter, while pitilessly exposing any tendency toward the former). This is music-making at its finest. Those who are looking for virtuoso fireworks in the form of thunderstorms and lovers’ reveries willfind nothing on this album, but for those who prefer music as clean and airy and geometrically pure as a grecian temple, it will be a rara find.
Kidd Afrika is the seventh Windham Hill Album and the first Kidd Afrika album. For the first 10 Windham Hill albums, I suspect William Ackerman subscribed to the “I only publish one kind of music. The good kind.” theory. In the first three years of giving Windham Hill a go as a business, he released three of his own solo guitar albums, a lovely folk/pop album by Seattle musician Linda Waterfall, another solo guitar album by his cousin Alex De Grassi, and this immensely fun R&B/Blues party album by Kidd Afrika. This music is great fun. Really. Buy it now and put it on repeat at your next party. Don’t have a party planned? Schedule one just so you can play it and have a great time.
EDIT: September, 2019
In the Windham Hill Lovers Facebook group, we discussed the correct catalog number for this title – I had mistakenly marked it as C-1007, and yet a look at the vinyl tells me that is should be WHSR-1007. The number is right but the R is wrong. We asked label-founder Will Ackerman about the difference and he commented:
“You guys know more about this than I do ! I wasn’t sure exactly what WH should be… up to a certain point it was just anything I liked… though I had an affinity for guitar obviously. Having your cousin be Alex de Grassi certainly seemed to point us in the guitar direction, but I knew the players in Kidd Afrika ) and thought we’d give it a try. Utter failure. We’d had a bit of a buzz with Linda Waterfall’s Mary’s Garden (C 1002) which probably encouraged me to branch out further. I was pretty much dope slapped back into the world that I knew best… guitar. My cousin Alex de Grassi added further legitimacy to the label and I had hopes for the Erik Satie record (had we done this later I think we could have been very successful with it). W”
I Believe in You Don Davis (Groovesville Music, MI) (3:25)
Handouts T. J. Politzer (KiddTunes, BMI) (3:50)
She’s My Lady T. J. Politzer (KiddTunes, BMI) (5:25)
I’m Gonna Be More T. J. Politzer (KiddTunes, BMI)(7:42)
Spread the News Around Sonny Terry (Prestige Music, BMI) (2:13)
Don’t Mess with Mr. T Marvin Gaye (Jobete Music Co. ASCAP; and 20th Century Music Corporation, ASCAP) (6:20)
Take the Bait T. J. Politzer (KiddTunes, BMI) (5:26)
Marmalade and Jam T. J. Politzer (KiddTunes, BMI)(4:00)
Released through Windham Hill Records, Box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
Management by Don V. Ball 815 N 45th St., Seattle WA 98103 (206) 632-9690 and Ivan Buchbinder, PO Box 601 Bellingham, WA 98225 (206) 734-1435 — PLEASE NOTE THESE NUMBERS WERE PRINTED IN 1977 AND LIKELY NOT CURRENT.
(Includes complete lyrics, and the following additional credits)
Teddy Joe Politzer
Lead Vocal, lead electric and acoustic guitars, vibes on TAKE THE BAIT, mandolin on MARMALADE AND JAM.
Electric and acoustic rhythm guitars, vocals.
Drums, percussion, vocals, Fender Rhodes piano on DON’T MESS WITH MR. T.
Fender Bass, vocals.
Tenor and alto sax and horn arrangements on I BELIEVE IN YOU, I’M GONNA BE MORE, and APOLOGIZE with the West Seattle Horns, Ned Neltner on coronet and Les Clinkingbeard on baritone.
We dedicate this project to our friends and fans in appreciation of all their help, support, and inspiration. Thank You All. Donny, Larry, Teddy Joe, James.
Additional copies and other releases are available through Windham Hill Records.
Update, September, 2019: Note that the catalog number on all vinyl issues found to date is WHSR-1007, NOT WHS-C1007 as indicated in the title of this review.
Kudos to the kids of the band members; they have made the album available digitally and set up a MySpace page. The album is available for listening and downloading from the Kidd Afrika page on Rhapsody. It’s also available at the Amazon MP3 store, and a few other sources, so pick your poison. Sure, the quality of the MP3 stores isn’t quite HDTracks quality, but hey, it will do until the unlikely event the album is re-issued.
In a 2016 Facebook post, Ackerman added some details about this, and the othe early Windham Hill instrumental title, Kidd Afrika: “Linda Waterfall (Mary’s Garden) and Kidd Afrika were personal choices of mine … Linda was at Stanford with me and was close to JB White and Frank Light (the “White Light Band”) who were as good as any duo on the radio at the time…. no, I mean REALLY as good as anything on the radio at that time. Linda was equally brilliant …. Kidd Afrika included Larry Ryan who was a faculty brat like me… his dad was in the English Dept. at Stanford along with my dad and a lot of memories include Larry.”
“Childhood and Memory” is William Ackerman’s third album and the sixth release on Windham Hill records. It is also his last primarily solo album until 2004’s “Returning,” and so has a special place in many listeners’ hearts. Of course, Ackerman duets with himself on banjo, and Dave Ross’ flute graces “Anne’s Song” in such a lovely way, that just as many must be pleased to consider this the first Ackerman album that includes a duet.
Here, the jangly folk influences are receding into Ackerman’s developing style (“Seattle” being a very pleasant exception) and a more contemplative mood comes forward. Where “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” could never be called depressing, songs like “Sunday Rain” demand a deeply emotional response. Whether that response is tender nostalgia or or morbid depression probably says more about the listener than the performance. Regardless, it’s clear that by the time he recorded “Childhood and Memory” Ackerman had laid fundamental direction the artistic path he is still following today.
Track Listing, Credits and Tunings link after the videos:
All guitar and banjo performed by William Ackerman. The flute on Anne’s Song performed by Dave Ross. The banjo used in SUNDAY RAIN and GIDEON provided by Dana Morgan Music, Palo Alto, CA. These recordings were made in January 1979 using two AKG 451 microphones through an AMEK 2000 board on a TEAC 80-8 deck, and mixed on an AMPEX 440 two-track deck. UREI limiters were used in recording, and EMT 240 reverberation and dbx noise reduction were used in mixing.
AKG 451 Mic information from barryrudolph.com: Made from the late ’60s through the mid-’80s, the original AKG C-451 C Condenser Modular System (CMS Series) was a best-selling “chameleon” of a mic. It was designed to be adaptable to nearly any purpose; it could be outfitted with any of a whole system of modular components –such as screw-on capsule attenuator pads, extension tubes and swivels — that greatly increased its versatility. The original mic used the N-46E dual-AC power supply that supplied 12-volt phantom power and had a two-position, bass roll-off filter switch. As I found out by accident in my distant past as a second engineer, the mic would accept up to 52-volt phantom powering without smoking. The original, externally biased CK-1 capsule had an extremely low mass, making the mic insensitive to handling noise making it a favorite for handheld radio and TV use.
Dana Morgan Music was on Bryant Street in Palo Alto. It appears in several web biographies of the Grateful Dead, and in http://www.paloaltohistory.com/gratefuldead.html. Jerry Garcia taught guitar there in the 1960’s – and the Grateful Dead (then the Warlocks) would practice there. It was closed in the early 80’s.
Turning: Turning Back is Alex De Grassi’s first album and the fourth album issued on the Windham Hill label. This is a gorgeous solo acoustic guitar recording. In many ways it sets the tone for the remainder of what I consider to be the high period of the Windham Hill label.
De Grassi’s playing is technically deft, without being showy, creating a sound that flows and bubbles like water in a rocky brook, or sparkles like sunlight on aspen leaves – always engaging and thoughtful, and consistently filled with beauty and a positive energy.
This is a defining Windham Hill outing, but unfortunately not currently in print or available digitally.
Regarding other early Windham Hill releases, De Grassi says they are “Out of print and owned by Windham Hill/BMG. I can’t legally make them available. we’ve tried unsuccessfully to license them back. So, i might re-record them, but I can’t make them available as a digital download–sorry. Perhaps they will become available as individual pieces as downloads from Windham Hill,”
The recording quality is faultless with De Grassi’s guitar close-miked at the same San Mateo studio where William Ackerman’s first albums were recorded. Mastering by Stan Ricker and pressing by RTI of Camarillo makes the vinyl pressings similar to many Mobile Fidelity audiophile reissues.
In his Innerviews interview, De Grassi says of the album: “Turning: Turning Back really reflects a very personal approach to playing guitar and music in general,” he said. “People couldn’t put their finger on the genre. It came out before people called anything New Age. There were guitar influences from the British Isles like John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. I was listening to a lot of Keith Jarrett’s solo piano stuff at the time too. I really admired his playing and solo improvisations that cut across a lot of different lines and styles. Although it was jazz, it had a lot of qualities that were indefinable and indescribable. I think that was a very encouraging thing.”
Below is a terrific audio-only interview which begins with Alex talking about learning guitar and some of the things he brought to the recording of “Turning: Turning Back”.
It Takes a Year is the second album by William Ackerman and the third issue on the Windham Hill label. Certainly the album is best known for introducing us to Ackerman’s most famous song “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.” There is much more to the album than the opening track – “It Takes a Year”, deftly transitions between fast-paced folk guitar songs and graceful, contemplative, almost melancholy studies.
Ackerman has said that “The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit” is about the feeling of innocence he had before his mother passed away when he was 12 – the same year he first took up the guitar. Just a beautiful piece – and one he would rerecord several times.
This is an album worth revisiting if you already own it, and sampling if you don’t. As the title implies a maturing and patience, “It Takes a Year” shows the key musical development of Ackerman with themes that he would work time and again over the next 30 years; Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter he has recorded at least twice more.
Produced again by Scott Saxon, the album was mastered by the legendary Stan Ricker. While not as consistent in sound as later albums, the recording still invites an intimate encounter with Ackerman’s guitar. Ackerman points out that one of the microphones he owns at Imaginary Road Studious is worth more than the entire recording budget for his first four albums, the sound is still quite good on the vinyl pressings, even if the steel strings sometimes show more of their metal than mettle.
Notably, this is the first Windham Hill album to use the ECM Records-inspired graphics that came to define the Windham Hill look.
I’ve been in touch with Scott Saxon and hope to report some additional details about the recording work he did on the early Windham Hill albums.
The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter, (3:38) 1975
Balancing, (3:35) 1975
The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, (5:30) 1970
It Takes a Year, (4:52) 1976
The Townshend Shuffle (4:27), 1970-1976
A Tribute To The Philosophy Of James Estell Bradley, (2:36) 1973
The Search for the Turtle’s Navel, (4:58) 1970
The Rediscovery Of Big Bug Creek, Arizona, (3:03) 1973
“Artists, I am told, are always searching for a new medium to explore. I honestly thought I had it, but it proved infeasible to lathe sound recordings into Tupperware. My apologies. The search goes on.”
Updated September 2015 with new details about different pressings. See below.
This is the album that started it all. “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” is the first William Ackerman album, the first Windham Hill album. In 1975, William Ackerman, a Stanford dropout and founder of Windham Hill Builders in Palo Alto, California collected $5 each from 300 friends to record an album. They had heard him play live and wanted to have the music to listen to anytime.
Ackerman had been inspired by John Fahey’s Takoma Records – musically, and with the sense that he, too, could start his own record label. At the time, Ackerman hadn’t envisioned that his label would sell millions of recordings establish dozens of artists and start a new genre. He was making records for friends and putting out records part time. As the founding of Windham Hill is fairly widely reported, I’ll not go into it deeply here.
It is an essential recording for fans of solo guitar, folk, finger-picking, and new age.
As a collector and lover of the early Windham Hill albums this is certainly the most interesting because Ackerman would change it with new printings. This original page featured two covers that I’ve found in Bay Area stores: the “black cover” Windham Hill recording with guitar on the back, and the final “White Cover” Windham Hill pressing. The A&M pressing replicated the “White Cover” Windham Hill release except for the change in release number from “WHS C-1001” t0 “WH 1001” and the addition of the A&M distribution reference.
Since then I’ve heard from guitarist and Ackerman collector Tim Pacheco, who graciously photographed 5 different versions he’s collected. I’ve also heard from the “Turtle’s Navel” recording engineer Scott Saxon, who also has multiple copies.
The Search for the Turtle’s Navel: The original version is titled “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” and features a black and white photo of a young child over the entire cover. The back side features a black and white shot by photographer Ron May of a guitar neck with plant silhouettes behind it.
Some have wondered about title. Don’t turtles lay eggs? How could they have a navel? This question drove the album name. In a comment in the Facebook group Windham Hill Lovers, Will Ackerman states: “When I was 10 we lived in Germany for a year. My father was the head “prof” for the second Stanford in Germany campus. I was then a fairly serious ping pong player. There was a ping pong table there and I could usually beat the pants off of most of the students. One student, Bill Sterling (the son of the then-president of Stanford University), however, was a challenge. We used to bet on games. A Mark was worth 25 cents in a time when that would buy 50 Gumi Bears in Germany…. my principal currency at the time. There was a time when Bill owed me 5 marks (a nice hefty coin that made me feel pretty rich when I had one)… he offered me a deal… double or nothing. If I could find a picture of a turtle’s navel I’d be up to 10 Marks and if not it would be back to 0 for me. So I went hunting for the photo and failed. I handed over my 5 Marks, not wanting to be a “kid” and taking my lumps. Bill smiled and explained the ruse and handed me 10 Marks !!! I recently reached out to Bill who remembered the bet. He did say that I owed him at least 10 Marks for the title of my LP (now CD).”
Design by Gail Segerstrom, Cheryl, Anne Ackerman and Will Ackerman
All compositions by William Ackerman
All selections Windham Hill Music BMI
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305
(c)(p)WINDHAM HILL RECORDS 1976
THE PINK CHIFFON TRICYCLE QUEEN (5:30) 1973
proving once and for all that speed and dexterity are not enough. Written as the theme song for the 1973 Smart Person’s Convention in Detroit.
ELY (5:27) 1970
intended to convey a picture of the cathedral in Ely, England
WINDHAM MARY (4:25) 1972
a song for Mary Folsom.
PROCESSIONAL (3:40) 1973
for Steve Harvey who is noted within theatre circles primarily for his promotion of excessive hairgrowth as a viable dramatic form.
DANCE FOR THE DEATH OF A BIRD (3:27) 1970
a kotoesque ballad of death and anger. The thought “life is an endless vista of toil” may be supplied by the individual listener as harmony.
THE SECOND GREAT TORTION BAR OVERLAND OF WEST TOWNSHEND, VERMONT, JOSE PEPSI ATTENDING (3:10) 1974
a horror story of metal fatigue and intoxication wherein a maddened Pepsi salesman is coerced into the abandonment of all ethical standards and a submissive truck first experiences the freedom of modern downhill skiing.
WHAT THE BUZZARD TOLD SUZANNE (4:30) 1971
conveys the mood of terrible heat and concerns itself with how unwelcome enlightenment can be without icecubes.
BARBARA’S SONG (7:25) 1970
a song of love and its attendant miseries
GAZOS (4:33) 1975
in commemoration of The Great Barrier Reef Marsupial Jamboree, 1857 at which time Coriolis Effect was invented for purposes of comedy.
It seems both like yesterday and in another lifetime that I recorded Turtle’s Navel. While not as poetic, the calendar tells me it was somewhere in the middle of these extremes, twenty-two years ago. It was 1975 and I was 25.
In 1975, the Bee Gees we Jive Talkin’ and we were scared to go into the water; a young Steven Spielberg having done for oceans what Hitchcock had previously done for showers. I recorded a simple solo guitar record at Mantra Studios in San Mateo, California with a guy named Scott Saxon engineering. I think the whole project took place in three two-hour sessions. It’s impossible to describe the innocence of the experience. This was intended to be a record for friends who had heard my music in stairwells and churches in the Palo Alto, California area. This naïve and innocent ambition was the beginning of Windham Hill Records which, like Turtle’s Navel, is now twenty-two years old.
I have not listened to Turtle’s Navel all the way through since 1976, which offers a musician about as much objectivity on their own music as one could hope for. I just listened to the record. It is so long ago that I almost feel it was written by someone else. Whoever the guy is, you can hear clearly the source of some of his influence: John Fahey in “What the Buzzard Told Suzanne,” Kottke in “The Second Great Tortion Bar Overland” and “The Pink Chiffon Tricycle Queen,” Robbie Basho in “Ely” and Japanese Koto music in “Dance for the Death of a Bird.” There are transitions I had forgotten and was surprised to hear as the CD played. Two fo the songs Id actually forgotten entirely, “Gazos” and “Slow Motion Roast Beef Restaurant Seduction.” I was surprised by the jazzy feel of “Windham Mary” and “Gazos,” an element which has all but disappeared from what I write now. What struck me the most, though, was that a few songs really sounded like they had their own voice; “Processional” (still a staple of my live performance), “Barbara’s Song” and “Slow Motion.” The years however, and all the music that has come since, make the fruits of this exploration rather like finding artifacts in an archeological dig. I am pleased to say that Turtle’s Navel sounds simple, even primitive to me, but also sincere.
I hope you’ll find something here that you enjoy.
Windham County, VT November 1, 1997
August 2015 Updates
Since publishing this a few years back, I’ve found new copies of the album, and heard comments from Will Ackerman about some of the variations. In a comment on the Facebook Group Windham Hill Lovers, Will says:
“The very first Turtle’s Navel albums were printed on a warm brown paper stock. They are easily identified by the fact that they were glued to plain white album covers (which were in the ceiling crawlspace of Mantra Studios in San Mateo and given to me by engineer Scott Saxon), so that one can see the white of the cover on the spine and on all of the margins. This was being done on such a shoestring budget that the free plain covers from Scott were deeply appreciated. These early covers retained the inclusion of thanks to friends who helped make these covers… Gail Segerstrom who did the design with my input (the photo I took being of my sister Elinor when she was 3), Geoff Elliot who did the actual printing. Then it was up to me to use spray adhesive to glue these to the plain white covers. The second incarnation is much the same as the first except the gluing of the cover printing is over black covers which were given to me by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records (for whom I was doing some construction work in Emeryville, CA as part of my Windham Hill Builders company). The covers were from a discontinued record called “Louisiana Prison Worksongs.” I take certain delight that Turtles and prison work songs could be such intimate partners in this. I am indebted to friend and fellow guitarist Tim Pacheco who has found at least 5 of the covers as they evolved and sent them to me as gifts. One of the tip-offs that you have one of the original covers is that I learned that I needed some sort of copyright information on the records and so had a rubber stamp made that read ” P ” with a circle around it, 1975 William Ackerman. I believe that there were perhaps 300 of these covers. I’d have to write a book on all of the later variations. I believe there are 7 different Turtle’s Navel cover incarnations. Will”
You can see some of these covers in a video I made of the 5 variations I own here: