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Archive for March, 2011

Arthur Hall: Village Under Snow; Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas

Every holiday season for the last 8 years, I’ve put together a mix of favorite music for the quiet winter months. Once the snow starts to fly in October, and on through March, winter is my quiet time and music is a fine companion.

Starting with A Winter’s Solstice, released on LP in 1985, Windham Hill Records set the standard for non-Christmas/non-Santa music for the cold seasons. They produced two superb volumes under that name, followed by four more of variable quality, and four excellent Celtic Christmas collections. But at some point Will Ackerman sold the label and the holiday collections lost their way. Jim Brickman and Yanni, among others, crashed the party, then there were Christmas carol collections, jazz holiday collections, and anything else the new marketing department could come up with. The series hit a low point in the travesty Winter Solstice on Ice, a 1999 double CD with a companion DVD that had artists miming their work in Arctic locations and, yes, ice skating.

Still, a few keepers slipped through along the way: The White Album (1997), A Winter Solstice Reunion (1998), and A Winter’s Solstice Silver Anniversary Edition (2001, thankfully curated by Dawn Atkinson, one of the original forces behind the label) are all excellent (well, there may be one or two tracks that can be skipped on each). As I’ve made my playlists each year I’ve borrowed liberally from these collections, and added similar tracks from other folk, acoustic, and classical artists, like David Darling, Pierre Bensusan, Roger Eno, and Tim Story.

Which brings me to today’s musical recommendation. A lovely new CD of Tim Story’s work, Collected, was released last fall. It’s got several tracks from the Windham Hill holiday collections as well as his contributions to In Search of Angels and Prayer, two other Windham Hill collections worth a listen. Overall, the CD is a wealth of soothing music with just enough of an edge to keep it from being overly sweet. Here’s a representative, short piece:

Tim’s work has generally been based on piano and synthesizers, and many of his albums over the years have been notable for their dark, almost ominous edge in a field of beautiful calm. Reviewers typically use words like “sparse” and “delicate drama,” “elegant” and “understated” in trying to describe his peculiar slant on music that could be ambient, classical, or avant-garde, and usually all at the same time. Tim refers to his own “considerable predilections for ambiguity and shadow” in the liner notes to this CD, and notes that these pieces are more accessible than usual. Given that he also collaborates with the likes of Hans-Joachim Roedelius (founder of the German experimental groups Cluster and Harmonia), I suppose this CD is more accessible, but it’s delicious music nonetheless.

I’ve been a fan for more than 25 years, and have enjoyed Tim’s accessibility as well as that mysterious, dark, curious side to his music. And he’s a nice guy, too: In the late 1980’s I had bought an import copy of Norwegian composer Ketil Bjornstad’s Three Ballets box set just to get his brilliant solo piano album Pianology, which had a nasty warp in the vinyl. The Norwegian label that distributed the album, Uniton, had an American contact address that turned out to be Tim’s own address. After I wrote asking if anyone knew how I could get a replacement, I got back a note from Tim with a new copy of Pianology.

Anyway, Collected is on the top of my recommendations for 2010. (Click the picture to order a copy directly from Tim.)

And if you’re curious about my winter playlists, here’s what’s in the 2010 version:

When the Snow Melts – Phil Cunningham & Mánus Lunny (Celtic Christmas)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Steve Erquiaga (A Winter’s Solstice V)
Oran Mhor Mhic Leoid – Aine Minoghe (Celtic Lamentations)
Anuhea’s Song – Sonny Lim (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2)
Bethel – Paul Cardall (20 Years of Narada Piano)
Sometimes Love Is – Jane Kelly Williams (The Patchwork of Lost and Found)
Emmanuel – Will Ackerman (The Carols of Christmas)
Driekruisenstraat 111 – Jan Swerts (Weg)
Winter Music – Roger Eno (Between Tides)
She Is Love – Parachute (Losing Sleep)
Song of Gratitude – Anja Lechner & Vassilis Tsabropoulos (Melos)
Kiholo Moon – Charles Michael Brotman (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2)
Embers – Max Richter (Memoryhouse)
Alkenstraat 9 – Jan Swerts (Weg)
Snow on High Ground – Nightnoise (Celtic Christmas)
In Memory – Anja Lechner & Vassilis Tsabropoulos (Melos)
Walking in the Air (The Snowman) – Fred Simon (The Night Before Christmas)
Carolan’s Farewell to Music – Aine Minoghe (Celtic Lamentations)
Almost Dark – Roger Eno (Between Tides)

That’s what I like in the winter: quiet music that goes well with a walk through a snowy landscape, or spending a dark evening curled up by the fireplace.

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