I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not too smart to start a review by revealing your ignorance about a subject. Nevertheless, I have to confess to a certain lack of knowledge about the wider aspects of the whole New Age movement, including the spiritual foundation. But that being said, this is a place where we talk about music so let’s just focus on that aspect of New Age. After all, music is music.
You could probably drive yourself crazy trying to figure out all the genres of music that are present in today’s musical environment, and some of them are a real mystery to me. I once listened to some Ska and it wasn’t bad, but what in the world is Darkwave? And how about Primus? But leaving that aside, New Age is a genre that’s very definitely known, although it might be defined a little differently by some. Here’s a pretty good description I read recently — it’s a fusion of instrumental folk, classical and jazz, that readily lends itself to meditation and relaxation. (It’s also been described as something that’s indispensable to massage therapists.)
Many trace the origins to a time about 30 years ago when a guitarist in California wanted to make an album, and had to end up doing it himself. The company he formed to do that became one of the driving forces in the evolution of New Age music. His name is Will Ackerman and the company is Windham Hill Records.
He proved to be a pretty good businessman as he gradually built up the company, starting with his own music and later discovering and adding artists who became stars of the new genre. Ackerman’s company prospered, eventually selling over 40 million albums, and he later sold most of his stake in the company to RCA. He was a in a position where he could afford to lessen his involvement and get back to the music he loves.
To commemorate their 30th anniversary, Windham Hill has a lot of different things going on – live concerts and the like – and have generated an impressive lineup of albums, including the Pure series, with albums dedicated to soloists such as Jim Brickman, Michael Hedges, and Ackerman himself. Added to that is the special commemorative album they’ve released titled Windham Hill – Sundown, an outstanding selection of music pulled from just about all of their stable of talented artists.
It’s an artful assortment, with a lot of different soloists and a lot of different songs, and yet all remain true to the New Age sound, in some cases remarkably so. It includes a playful tune by Henry Adam Curtis appropriately titled “Playground”, a subdued but very nice version of Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” played by George Winston, and a couple of classical pieces, including Philip Aaberg’s interpretation of a Bach prelude. Another song I found interesting and am including as a sample, is Dick Hyman’s take on a Scott Joplin classic. His title is “Variations On ‘Solace'”. Very nice.
I have to confess that I’m not hugely fond of this type of music, but when I got my critic’s license out of the Cheerios box I’m sure that being a fan of a particular genre wasn’t one of the qualifications, and for aficionados of New Age music the whole Windham Hill collection has to be a good addition to their musical library.