Winterfold by Jeff Johnson. Like a slimmed-down version of his Albion series, this Celtic-inspired instrumental collection is as cool and airy as a November forest.

Label: Ark Music
Time: 8 Tracks / 50 minutes

Jeff Johnson has had a variety of largely instrumental releases with Brian Dunning and nearly all have been highly enjoyable. Some have been minimalist, ambient works where every tone is carefully placed inside cushions of space (A Thin Silence, Standing Still); while others have been more regular Celtic-inspired full ensemble works (Songs of Albion series, Byzantium). This collection sits somewhere in between, but much closer to Albion.

This time, a large part of the literary inspiration is Orkney Island poet George MacKay Brown's writing, which leads the music to travel “from the last flower of Fall through Winter towards the promise of Spring.” At the heart of that season is Christmas and “Gabriel” includes a Basque folk carol, “Gabriel's Message.”

The trio blend beautifully with an ever-morphing palette of musical colours: Dunning is prominent in this release, sometimes on an accordion that sounds remarkably synth-like (“Strolling Through Star Streets”), but mainly on a flute with a particularly rich tone. He often duets violinist Goodwin, who interweaves with and mirrors his work on each track's strong melody lines. Dunning's Celtic whistling and Goodwin's sometimes jazzy violin combine to symbolise the joint American / Irish heart of this group. Johnson's measured piano work adds some sharper notes below their flowing lines. Adding to the tones are Tim Ellis on acoustic guitar, Phil Baker on a resonant bass and Mike Snyder with occasional percussion.

Those who have previously enjoyed the team's work may find that the tunes and sound here are quite familiar; it can give the impression of a generic combination of previous releases. But there is still plenty to enjoy. It is music that you can leave rolling continuously as a mood-setter.

Particularly enjoyable are Johnson's piano tune that makes up the first three minutes of "Watching Clouds," and the pulsing undercarriage to “Her Heart Flies.”

Describing some artists' work as 'lovely' might be a backhanded compliment that implies blandness, but it can also describe an evocative gentleness, a peaceful spirit and an inherent beauty. That is why I consider this to be lovely – really lovely.


Derek Walker


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