Various Artists

Piano Sampler

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The groundbreaking popularity of George Winston's early-'80s albums confirmed Windham Hill as a progressive label most friendly toward instrumental piano music. By the mid-'80s, the label was awash in demo tapes from up-and-comers likely looking to catch the wave. As a result, Windham Hill, a small label with no desire to grow too big a catalog, was forced to reject some impressively talented piano artists. Windham Hill Piano Sampler is a bit like penance paid for sins of omission. For those looking for George Winston or Liz Story here, they won't be found. Instead, the idea here was to collect the more promising, burgeoning talents into one package. The LP included an insert with artist bios and information about their independent releases. Whereas attentive listens reveal the individual personalities and sonorities of each work, in sum, this is Windham Hill stock-in-trade piano music -- mellow, delicate, pattern-based compositions -- a neutral meeting-place between jazz, folk, ethnic, and light classical. Some of the artists (like Philip Aaberg and Tim Story) went on to sign with Windham Hill. Others went back to session work and indie releases. To the casual listener, it's easy to overlook the subtle details and the album easily blends into a comforting sweep of relaxation and complacency. More discerning connoisseurs of instrumental piano will find the cream of a very talented crop here. Michael Harrison's arpeggio-laden "In Flight" is textbook new age. Each contribution has a unique, moody flavor, from the childlike jump of Paul Dondero's "Out to Play" to the more subtly urbane and jazz-inflected "Amy's Song" by Peggy Stern. There's nary a dud in this rewarding set.

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