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Windham Hill (BMG)

  2001

 

 

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Remarkably, it is now over 30 years since George Winston's "Autumn" became the first piano release of the Windham Hill label. This collection was put together in 2001 to celebrate 25 years of consistently high standard piano releases from this small company led by Guitarist Will Ackerman at the helm. He has since relinquished his responsibilities at the label, and has taken to producing the music for up-and-coming pianists, who might well have found their way onto the Windham Hill roster if they had composed their music decades ago.

 

For the Windham Hill label itself, time has not been kind and, in line with many other labels covering the New Age genre, it now ceases to exist. It is through wonderful CDs like this one, that the music lives on to be enjoyed by future generations.

 

"Beautiful, relaxing music" are words synonymous with the label, and the collection does not disappoint.

 

The CD opens fittingly with a contribution from the legendary George Winston. "Dubuque" is taken from his "Plains" CD from 1994. It is a catchy and melodic piece which gets the listening experience off to a great start. Track 2, "Wedding Rain" is arguably Liz Story's most popular composition. Classically trained, this influence shines through in her compositions. Few people can have changed style as much as Jim Brickman, the creator of the album's third track, "If You Believe". Brickman's original releases were solo-piano. Since then, he has gone on to a lucrative career with the label, reverting to more "pop" music. This change in direction might not be appealing to piano lovers, but it certainly has had an effect on sales. He has sold more than three million records in seven years. No wonder the label is content with his new style! Happily, this track is from his early days and is a spritely little number. Øystein Sevåg provides the curious fourth track of the CD. "Children's Song" is a very beautiful piece and is full of innocence.

 

"As For Us" is a track by Fernando Ortega. It is a very pleasant little number, originally from Piano Sampler II. Track 6, "In Flight" is by Michael Harrison, not to be confused with Michael Allen Harrison. Listening to this, the listener can picture themselves soaring through the sky with the migrating birds. It's a wonderful, imaginative and free spirited piece. Michael Harrison later went on to focus on piano compositions written purely in intonation, but this track is far more accessible. "Inside Out" is another offering from the ever-popular Liz Story. Again, there is a catchy melody, and her classical influences are apparent.

 

It's back to Jim Brickman again for Track 8, and the composition he credits with launching his career. "Rocket to the Moon" is a lovely, extremely melodic piece and quickly became a favourite amongst his hoards of fans. W.A. Mathieu (Walter Allaudin Mathieu, but sometimes known as Allaudin Mathieu) features in the collection's ninth track- "To the Well". There can be no disputing the fact that this is his most popular composition and very beautiful it is too. Originally written as a solo-piano piece, both Allaudin and Will Ackerman agreed that the track needed that little extra something. Together, they concurred that wordless vocals should be added, and they managed to secure the services of internationally acclaimed composer and vocalist Bobby McFerrin. The addition of the vocals allows the composition to reach new heights and, as such, has become one of my all-time favourite tracks. It has a timeless quality. It's also worth noting that "To the Well" is one of Will Ackerman's favourite tracks in the entire Windham Hill catalogue- and that runs into several hundred tracks.

Windham Hill are certainly looking to the future by including the debut track from a talented 16 year old by the name of Taylor Eigsti. Taylor certainly shows much potential in his track, "Past Voices" and hints at his jazz roots. "A Morning With the Roses" is just as appealing as the title of the track would suggest. It is a fine piece by Richard Dworksy, originally released on a Piano Sampler from Windham Hill. George Winston provides the CD's penultimate track, with a typically melodic piece entitled "Loreta and Desirée's Bouquet- Part 1", taken from his "Summer" CD. The honour of providing the compilation's closing track goes to Philip Aaberg who recorded four albums for the label and has since gone on to producing his own CDs on his own label- sometimes with a blues influence. This is not the case with "Montana Half-Light" which has classical and new-age traits. What is clear, however, is Aaberg's remarkable ability for playing the piano. It is no surprise to see Montana in the title, for his homeland has been the source of great inspiration to this exceptional composer.

What a collection! Windham Hill have released many gems in their 25+ years, and this is an excellent collection. My only surprise and slight regret is that the label saw fit to only release a 53 minute CD. With the quantity of tracks at their disposal, a double CD (such as Narada released when celebrating their anniversary) would have been ideal, with no sacrifice to quality. Still, good things often come in small packages, and this is the case here.

I highly recommend this CD. It quite possibly will motivate you into exploring the artists' own work.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows: 25 Years

of Windham Hill Piano

 

 

 

 

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