Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shadowfax - 1976 - Watercourse Way

Watercourse Way

01. The Shape Of A Word (7:39)
02. Linear Dance (5:51)
03. Petite Aubade (5:59)
04. Book Of Hours (6:37)
05. Watercourse Way (6:04)
06. Song For My Brother (9:41)

- Phil Maggini / Bass, Cowbell
- Stuart Nevitt / Drums, Tabla, Percussion
- G.E. Stinson / Guitar, Sitar, Vocals
- Chuck Greenberg / Lyricon, Saxophone [Soprano], Flute, Recorder, Oboe, Clarinet
- Doug Maluchnik / Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer [Moog, Sequencer], Harpsichord, Keyboards [Chamberlin]

One of new age electronic music's earliest and best-known proponents, Shadowfax were formed in Chicago in 1972 by saxophonist Chuck Greenberg, guitarist G.E. Stinson, and bassist Phil Maggini. Originally a blues band, the trio soon began exploring chamber jazz and folk; even medieval music began creeping into the mix, appropriately enough for a group named in honor of a horse from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. Adding drummer Stuart Nevitt in 1974, Shadowfax issued their debut LP, Watercourse Way, two years later; failing to make an immediate impact, the quartet did attract a cult following that continued to grow following its subsequent signing to the Windham Hill label. Their commercial breakthrough arrived with the release of 1982's eponymously titled effort, which reached the upper rungs of the Billboard jazz charts; for the follow-up, 1983's Shadowdance, Shadowfax's ranks swelled with the additions of violinist Jamii Szmadzinski and pianist/synth player Jared Stewart. The band endured multiple personnel changes in the years to follow, with founding members Greenberg and Maggini both remaining constants well into the 1990s. However, given Greenberg's leadership position in Shadowfax and role in creating their signature sound (including his playing of the Lyricon electronic wind instrument that he helped to engineer), the group disbanded following the reedman's death from a heart attack while vacationing on California's Santa Cruz Island in September 1995.

This is another album that didn't sound anything like I though it would. I first heard of this band a few years ago on an internet radio show that played this one song by them with some regularity. I really liked it, it was pastoral and it really grew on me. Anyway I find out later (after buying this cd) that this band is known more for playing New Age music. So I put it aside with the idea of listening to it down the road. Anyway when I did finally break it out I was shocked at how aggressive it was, especially the guitar. Some songs sound just like MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA especially the McLaughlin-like guitar. There are a variety of styles though along with numerous instruments. Bottom line is that this is a treasure chest for Prog fans.
"The Shape Of A Word" has some mellotron in this aggressive intro with prominant guitar. It settles some with piano as the tempo continues to shift. So much going on at times with all these intricate sounds. The guitar after 3 minutes really reminds me of McLaughlin from the "Birds Of Fire" album. Scorching guitar ! Mellotron before 5 minutes then we get this collage of sounds late. Fiery Fusion at it's best right there. "Linear Dance" is the only track with vocals. It hits the ground running. A Fusion flavoured guitar style here as well as he lights it up. Very intricate drum work as well. Impressive. Vocals after a minute as it settles. It turns aggressive again as vocals continue. "Petite Aubada" is an acoustic track that sounds completely different from the first two songs. Is this the same band ? Piano, flute, acoustic guitar, mellotron and harpsichord among other instruments can be heard in this pastoral tune.

"Book Of Hours" has lots of piano early as chunky bass, synths, drums and other sounds join in. The guitar is on fire 3 minutes in. It settles before 4 minutes with sax. Piano and drums join in as the sax continues. The guitar takes over before 6 minutes and lights things up. "Watercourse Way" is full of intricate sounds including aboe. Flute and piano lead before 4 minutes. "Song For My Brother" is my favourite track. It's kind of dark with some atmosphere early. It brightens before 1 1/2 minutes. Tasteful guitar 2 1/2 minutes in that becomes so emotional a minute later. A calm 5 1/2 minutes in then piano arrives. Beautiful. The guitar after 7 1/2 minutes is so moving as it gets aggressive again. Mellotron in this song as well. Almost 10 minutes of bliss.



  2. thanks. always dismissed this lot because of the New Age tag but this is something else.

  3. Same here. This is awesome guitary prog fusion! The second album is pretty great too. Now to check out the third...