The Five Best George Winston CDs

George Winston in Original Echoes Living Room

George Winston in Original Echoes Living Room

George Winston Then & Now

George Winston is both loved and reviled. His impressionistic solo piano albums came to define the Windham Hill sound and he’s among the first musicians most people think of when you say, New Age.  Praised with five and four star reviews from Downbeat and Rolling Stone for his debut album,  Autumn,  in 1980, he’s since come to be synonymous with shlock for many critics.  But those critics are missing the point.   Winston took the lyricism and mood that made Keith Jarrett‘s music so popular and refined them into what he called “folk piano” on his first Windham Hill album, Autumn.  It launched a million solo pianists, yet none of them has attained George Winston’s almost transcendent marriage of melody and atmosphere.

Winston is an eclectic artists who cites The Doors and Tangerine Dream, Fats Waller and John ColtranePhilip Aaberg and  Steve Reich as influences.  He occasionally goes off and pays tribute to these artists, doing entire albums of Vince Guaraldi compositions, for instance.  With one exception, he’s less successful playing their music, which often reveals his own limitations as a pianist.  Nothing wrong with limitations, everyone’s got them.  But when he plays inside those limitations, George Winston moves outside the box.
As part of Echoes Then & Now series in our 20th Anniversary celebration, we’re featuring the music of George Winston.  You can hear his show tonight, August 14.  All of Winston’s albums have been reissued in recent years with bonus tracks and illuminating liner notes from the artist.

FIVE BEST GEORGE WINSTON CDS.

Forest 1 Forest
Forest is the CD that brought me into the Winston fold.  I liked his earlier albums, but on Forest, George Winston went deeper, extending his ringing, open-air, melodic sound, embracing the minimalist influences of Steve Reich on “Tamarack Pines,” the jazz harmonies of the late-organist Larry Young‘s “The Cradle” and the slow ragtime of William Bolcom‘s “Graceful Ghost.  But whether playing the challenging inside-the-piano effects of his “Forbidden Forest” or the inviting themes of “Cloudy This Morning,” George Winston’s gifted lyricism remains true.

51ZnOtkI+pL._SL500_AA240_2 Autumn
This is the album that started it all, although it’s techically his second album, it was his first on Windham Hill Records.  The opening “Colors/Dance” rings with the open clarity of the Montana plains where Winston grew up.  “Woods,” with its quasi-classical arpeggios, seems to dance in the air.  And so it goes throughout Autumn as the pianist unfolds his melodies in what sounds like spontaneous reverie.

51RBD51D6DL._SL500_AA240_3 Night Divides the Day-The Music of the Doors
I think this may be the least well-received Winston album by his fans, but I thought there were a couple tracks on here that attained true interpretive brilliance and revealed the depth and breadth of George Winston’s vision.  he reimagined   “My Wild Love” from a drunken stomp into a zen piano koan and his take on “Bird of Prey,” based on a Jim Morrison poem aspires to the imagery Morrison wrote.  His shimmering rendition of “Crystal Ship” is magical and serene.   One of the thrills of Echoes was the Living room concert that The Doors’ Ray Manzarek and George Winston played together, facing each other on twin grand pianos.

51CO4ICumoL._SL500_AA240_4 Winter Into Spring
Never a florid player, Winston’s best music emerges from those spaces where the melody finds its own refractions, unimpeded by the pointless ornamentation and quasi-classical flourishes that tarnish so many pianists who followed in his wake.  song.    Winter Into Spring was Winston’s second album for Windham Hill Records and following up on the themes of Autum, it continues down the seasonal road and includes several of Winston’s signature compositions including “January Stars” and the extended ruminations of “Rain.”

41eIISJsZJL._SL500_AA240_5 December
December is a Christmas album that transcends the season.  Mixing traditional carols, a couple of classical works and his own originals, Winston takes you into winter from the cover photo of a snow blanketed field to his final invocation, “Peace.”  Winston’s piano drops notes with icy clarity into a winter silence, rippling through “Carol of Bells” and coaxing dark introspective moods from his own suite, “Night,” which includes Winston playing inside the piano like a harp. Who would’ve thought that the gentle melodies of “Peace” were inspired by the soundtrack to TV’s The Outer Limits?

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000NKL/echoes

B00005NNDO december

George Winston is both loved and reviled. His impressionistic solo piano albums have come to define the Windham Hill sound and he’s among the first musician most people think of when you say, New Age.  Praised with five and four star reviews from Downbeat and Rolling Stone upon his debut album Autumn in 1980, he’s since come to be synonymous with shlock for many critics.
But George Winston, despite his continued popularity, is still an underrated pianist.  He took the lyricism and mood that made Keith Jarrett’s music so popular and refined them into what he called “folk piano” on his first Windham Hill album, Autumn.  It launched a million solo pianists, yet none of them has attained George Winston’s almost transcendent marriage of melody and atmosphere.
Winston is an eclectic artists who cite’s The Doors and Tangerine Dream, Fats Waller and Phillip Aaberg, Steve Reich and Alex De Grassi as influences.  He often goes off and pays tribute to these artists, doing entire albums of Vince Guaraldi compositions.  With one exception, he’s less successful there playing music that often reveals his own limitations as a pianist.  Nothing wrong with limitations, everyone’s got them.  But when he plays inside those limitations, George Winston moves outside the box.
As part of Echoes Then & Now series in our 20th Anniversary celebration, we’re featuring the music of George Winston.  You can hear his show tonite, August 14.  All of Winston’s albums have been reissued in recent years with Bonus tracks and illuminating liner notes from the artist.

Five Best George Winston CDs

GEORGE WINSTON
Forest
Forest is the CD that brought me into the Winston fold.  I liked his earlier albums, but on Forest, George Winston went deeper, extending his ringing, open-air, melodic sound, embracing the minimalist influences of Steve Reich on “Tamarack Pines,” the jazz harmonies of the late organist Larry Young’s “The Cradle” and the slow ragtime of William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost.  But whether playing the challenging inside-the-piano effects of his “Forbidden Forest” or the inviting themes of “Cloudy This Morning,” George Winston’s gifted lyricism remains true.

Autumn
This is the album that started it all, although it’s techically his second album, it was his first on Windham Hill Records.  The opening “Colors/Dance” rings with the open clarity of the Montana plains where Winston grew up.  “Woods,” with its quasi-classical arpeggios, seems to dance in the air.  And so it goes throughout Autumn as the pianist unfolds his melodies in what sounds like spontaneous reverie.

Night Divides the Day-The Music of the Doors
I think this may be the least well-received Winston albums by his fans, but I thought there were a couple tracks on here that attained true interpretive brilliance and revealed the depth and breadth of George Winston’s vision.  His interpretation of My Wild Love as a zen piano koan is brilliant and his take on Bird of Prey, based on a Jim Morrison poem aspires to the imagery Morrison wrote.  And you can beat his shimmering rendition of “Crystal Ship.”  One of the thrills of Echoes was the Living room concert that Ray Manzarek and George Winston played together, facing each other on twin grand pianos.

WINTER INTO SPRING
Never a florid player, Winston’s best music emerges from those spaces where the melody finds its own refractions, unimpeded by the pointless ornamentation and quasi-classical flourishes that tarnish so many pianists who followed in his wake.  song.    WINTER INTO SPRING was Winston’s second album for Windham Hill Records and following up on the themes of AUTUMN, it continues down the seasonal road and includes several of Winston’s signature compositions including”January Stars” and the extended ruminations of “Rain.”

December
December is a Christmas album that transcends the season.  Mixing traditional carols, a couple of classical works and his own originals, Winston takes you into winter from the cover photo of a snow blanketed field to his final invocation, “Peace.”  Winston’s piano drops notes with icy clarity into a winter silence, rippling through “Carol of Bells” and coaxing dark introspective moods from his own suite, “Night,” which includes Winston playing inside the piano like a harp. Who would’ve thought that the gentle melodies of “Peace” were inspired by the soundtrack to TV’s The Outer Limits?

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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5 Responses to “The Five Best George Winston CDs”

  1. Wes M. Says:

    My wife and I saw George Winston for the first time this last week in Fort Collins, CO. Over the years, we both have immensely enjoyed his “nature/seasons” pieces very much. His impressionistic work is really something special on the piano.

    However, of the 14 or 15 songs he played, only 4 or 5 fit were from his “nature/seasons” albums. The rest were very jazzy, Louisiana-influenced pompous pieces that, while admirable in that he can play these difficult pieces, they didn’t float our boat. Just a heads-up for those looking to hear him play his more meditative works…

    • echoesblog Says:

      Yes that’s been an issue with George. He loves a lot of this early, stride and boogie woogie piano and a lot of New Orleans style music, but it never sits with his “folk piano” material and frankly, it reveals his deficiencies as a pianist. If you’re going to pay homage to your heroes, you’d do well to have your chops together. Winston has much of his own to offer. Jazz and blues and boogie-woogie really isn’t it.

  2. Dan the Music Master Says:

    George Winston certainly has particular styles that he clearly excels at. He really is a very entertaining musician.

  3. Piano Lessons by QM Says:

    Heard from the grapevine that George is not going to to any more albums like the ones that made him famous. And the source is very accurate.

  4. Richard Isaacs Says:

    I have seen him before and enjoyed his shows. Artists grow as we all do. Saw him on 15 October 2015 in Auburn New York. He played some favourites and a lot of out of the box songs including a jaw dropping harmonica tune. We have grown and so has he and frankly I am glad he did. It was magic.

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