2017 / Dancing Cat/ RCA Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Of the iconic pianists of the past 35-40 years, I’m sure George Winston is one of the first that comes to most people’s minds. If you ask many contemporary solo pianists who their primary influences are, Winston is almost always mentioned. I discovered George Winston, Yanni, Suzanne Ciani, and David Lanz a few years after I started teaching piano lessons in 1981. What a wonderful discovery it was to find these incredible artists who were creating new piano music that was accessible and exciting, bringing the piano actively back into the public’s awareness. I saw George Winston in concert several times at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco and loved that he performed in this formal setting in his jeans, flannel shirt and no shoes. Although his name is one of the first to come up in discussions of “new age” piano, Winston has insisted for decades that his style is “folk” or “rural folk” piano and has nothing to do with the spiritual connotations of “new age” anything.
As a reviewer, so much new music has come across my desk over the past several years, that I hadn’t really thought about how long it had been since George Winston had released a new album (almost seven years), so it was a real shock to learn that he composed the music for Spring Carousel while recovering from a bone marrow transplant in 2012 and 2013 at City of Hope in Southern CA. Winston has recorded and released several benefit albums over the years, and the proceeds from this one will directly benefit City of Hope National Medical Center. While he recovered from the transplant surgery, Winston spent his time at the piano in the hospital auditorium every night. The fifteen tracks on this album were selected from 59 recorded pieces that Winston composed at City of Hope in early 2013. This is his fourteenth solo piano album.
The pieces on Spring Carousel can be grouped into three categories: “Carousels” (Winston composed twenty-one of these swirling pieces, nine of which are included on the album), up-tempo pieces called “Ms. Mysteries,” and slower “Bouquets.” There is a real vibrance and spirit to the music, which is often playful and carefree and sometimes reflects the influence of New Orleans piano legends Professor Longhair (1918-1980) and James Booker (1939-1983).
The album begins with the first of the Carousel pieces, a 39-second prelude that sparkles as it quickly spins. “Carousel 2” is subtitled “Cold Cloudy Morning,” and it, too, has a sparkling effect as it slowly revolves. “Muted Dream” is the only piece Winston has actually created as he dreamed. With his left hand muting the strings of the piano, the right hand plays a quick pattern that resembles a finger-style technique on guitar. “More Than You Know” is a beautiful, poignant ballad that pays tribute to those who have inspired Winston. “Ms. Mystery 1” expresses the freedom and spontaneity of an artist playing the piano late at night, letting his fingers wander around the piano keys as he reflects, composing without really thinking about it. “Night Blooming” is a direct reflection on how the body heals while sleeping. Winston’s use of the dampers of the piano gives the piece a soft, dreamy feeling. “Fess’ Carousels” is a medley of two Carousel pieces and the title refers Professor Longhair’s nickname. One of my favorites, it has a very light, ragtime style that resembles the music of some of the older merry-go-rounds. “Ms. Mystery 2 (Spring)” is played with a prepared piano that makes some of the piece sound very “old timey” and other parts sound fairly normal. One of the liveliest pieces on the album, this one really rocks! “Ms. Mystery 3 (F minor Soul)” is slow, bluesy, and reflective - another favorite. “Requited Love” ends the album spinning joyfully, dancing on a cloud.
Spring Carousel is very definitely a musical “event” with the added bonus of benefiting an exceptionally worthwhile cause. It’s great to hear George Winston is back in action and sounding better than ever! The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and most online music sources. Very highly recommended!
April 18, 2017