George Winston

Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions, Vol. 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit

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George Winston issued the Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions benefit recording in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina. He donated all proceeds to service organizations. This second volume follows nearly six years after the first, and two after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf and its massive oil spill. Winston is also donating his proceeds here. As a musician, his primary piano inspirations have always been the New Orleans piano greats: Professor Longhair, James Booker, Henry Butler, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Jon Cleary, and many others. The evidence is there, even on his most sentimental recordings. His time is impeccable; his left hand knows where all blues and stride piano playing stories are told: it rolls through rhythms with an ease that never sounds studied, and he hits the groove every time. Opener "New Orleans Will Rise Again #7" has his left hand nailing slightly dissonant bass figures before he lets it erupt into a full-blown strut (he claims Butler and Tuba Fats as sources). He weaves in gospel, second line, and stride, orchestrating it all with gorgeous chord voicings on the right hand and plenty of swing. "Pixie #4 (Gôbajie)" is another taste of his Booker inspiration here, but the extrapolations on this one as opposed to the first volume's are in E-minor rather than E-Flat, they move into compelling and imaginative harmonic terrain. Likewise, his covers of Cleary's "Fanning the Flames" and Dr. John's "Georgianna," while faithful to the originals, highlight their wonderful but often hidden eccentricities (read: innovations) with subtlety and humor. Winston's originals are ballads; they add a reflective and balanced sense of contrast to the whole. The finest of these are "The Gulf Will Live Again" and, in particular, "New Orleans Slow Dance." The latter evokes the styles of Tuts Washington and Toussaint and the melodic simplicity of Stephen Foster, but it's all wrapped in Winston's own sense of style. The set closes with a gorgeous, ten-minute suite entitled "An African in the Americas, which holds within it Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell's "Breaths" (it's credited). Winston simultaneously evokes the sound of a mbira with his piano, and the twin melodic sensibilities of Abdullah Ibrahim (whom he cites) and mbira master Dumisani Maraire's phrasing, sending the recording off with a soulful flourish. There are two more volumes in this series projected, and based on the inspired readings here and the previous volume; there is plenty to look forward to.

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