Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

All the Seasons of...

George Winston

Windham Hill

  1998

 

 

 

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George Winston is a name synonymous with New Age piano. Indeed, he is widely regarded as the forerunner of the genre- and was the first person to be signed onto the Windham Hill label back in the early 80s. George Winston has an extensive musical background, and as well as playing piano, is equally at home on guitar. This, however, is a piano CD, and it brings together some of his most loved recordings from his 25 years with the label (at the CDs release in the late 90s). Specifically, it features music from his "Seasons" albums ("Autumn", "Winter into Spring", "December" and "Summer" as well as other themed albums- "Forest", "Ballads and Blues 1972" and "Linus and Lucy- The Music of Vince Guaraldi". To many listeners, the music contained within this CD is New Age piano. Winston, however, categories his piano music differently: Folk piano, Stride piano and Rhythm and Blues piano.

The CD opens with the very lovely "Colours/Dance", taken from the "Autumn" album. In common with many of the pieces to be found here, George Winston has taken it upon himself to self-edit his lengthy works, and the end product is more accessible and allows the CD to offer a greater range. Certainly, the edit from over ten minutes to a little over three might seem a little drastic, but it seems to work very well. The piece is lovely and very uplifting. Winston cites his inspiration as "the blazing yellow maple and cottonwood trees of Billings and Miles City, Montana". The album's second track, "The Venice Dreamer (Part 2)" has a moody opening, before turning into another fun piece.

A favourite of mine is the third cut- "Living in the Country" from the album "Summer". It has a simple, but very effective melody that you'll be humming for days. It is extremely playful and brings to mind singing birds and children playing. This song was originally a solo guitar instrumental, composed and recorded by folk singer Pete Seeger around 1956. "The Cradle" on this CD is a live recording rather then the studio track as found on the album "Forest". It is a very gentle piece, and soothing in nature. Winston describes its source in his notes: "The original version by Larry Young (Khalid Yasim) was a duet for organ and drums from his Blue Note label album, Heaven on Earth. This version is slightly expanded and changed a bit, as all songs that are played live continue to grow and change." He dedicates the track to all mothers!

With a track title like "Joy", you really would expect the ensuing music to be positive and hit the "feel-good" button. It does just that. This is a catchy, happy piece inspired by J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". Track 6, "Treat Street" offers a completely different style, and a wild change in direction. Very bluesy, "Treat Street" is Winston's interpretation of a track by Vince Guaraldi- as a follow-up single to the very successful "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". This version by Winston is also influenced by the late New Orleans' pianist James Booker. Winston also credits Henry Butler as been a source of inspiration. Pachelbel's Canon seems to feature on countless New Age piano CDs, but few are as lovingly played as this one. It is amazing to think that a piece composed in 1699 is still widely used in the genre over three hundred years later.

The CD's eighth track, "Thanksgiving" is an edited version from Winston's "December" album. He credits his friends and the surroundings of Miles City, Montana as his inspiration for this beautiful piece. It has a slow tempo, and is exceptionally nice to listen to. "Miles City Train" is frenzied, and is the sort of piece that his fellow ex-Windham Hill pianist Philip Aaberg would enjoy playing. It captures the hustle and bustle of the station and the train. Winston tells how he was inspired by the train rides he made to and from Miles City in the 1950s. It is a busy, busy piece, and one that showcases his considerable talent. Not one to fall asleep to!

Track ten is "Corrina, Corrina", a very melodic piece which rolls along effortlessly. It is from his "Summer" album. In Winston's linear notes, he states that the song, "is sometimes played as a lament for a lost lover, but also sometimes as a love song or a lullaby for a child, which is the spirit in which it is played here." I particularly like the flurry of soft notes just after the two minute mark, which remind me very much of a lullaby. A lovely piece.

I am also particularly fond of "Hummingbird" and am intrigued by the opening and the ending. It sounds like Winston is plucking something (although, from the linear notes, it suggests that it is a special piano technique.) It's a great tune, and Winston reveals how the "Hummingbird" runs at the end of the piece are a right-hand technique learned from the great Stride pianist Thomas "Fats" Waller. It is certainly different, but very appealing.  Track 12, "Longing/Love" is a heavily edited version of the Autumn piece, reduced from over nine minutes, to a little over five. Again, this features an attractive melody which should appeal to most listeners.

The final section of the CD begins on a real high, with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". This is another of Vince Guaraldi's, who Winston clearly holds in high esteem. It was Guaraldi's first single and first hit way back in 1962. Apparently, it was the "B" side of the single, but the disc jockeys of the time thought better, and played it as the "A" side. It's a wonderful piece and expertly played by Winston. It's great fun to listen to and, I would imagine, even more fun to play. "Sandman" is another previously unreleased bonus track. It's a quiet and quite lovely piece- one of the gentlest pieces on the entire album. Yet another favourite is the album's fifteenth track, "The Snowman's Music Box Dance". This is from the album "Forest" and is an adaptation of a piece composed by Howard Blake. It sounds very much like a children's piece. One can almost visualise the snowman merrily moving on the Music Box. Lots of high notes here, and the clarity is amazing.

Two bonus tracks bring the CD to a close. The first, "Northern Plains" is very quiet, and Winston tells how it was inspired by the plains of Eastern Montana, where he grew up. Winston cites his friend and fellow composer Philip Aaberg as a source of inspiration for this atmospheric piece. The closing track, "Sleep Baby Mine" is another adaptation- this time of a piece of music by Alfred S. Burt and Wihla Hutson, written in 1949. This song is one of fifteen carols he wrote as a gift for friends. The piece was apparently inspired by the birth of his daughter. A jazz trumpeter by trade, I am pleased to report that Winston's version sounds very relaxing and is solo piano. A soothing end to a perfect CD.

"All the Seasons of George Winston" is quite a remarkable album. I was thrilled with my purchase when I acquired this CD a number of years ago, and treasure it dearly. Winston is a prolific composer, and his latest CD was released in September 2006 ("Gulf Coast Blues and Impressions"). Fans of piano music who welcome a variety of styles, expertly played by a master of his craft, will welcome this CD with open arms. It is a superb release, and one that most certainly deserves the distinction of "Piano Heaven".

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Seasons of George Winston: ...

All the Seasons of

George Winston

George Winston