George Winston,
Night Divides the Day:
The Music of the Doors

(Windham Hill, 2003)

There is so much more to George Winston than meets the eye. A live performance is more than likely to include not just piano solos, but also fine interpretations of Celtic and Appalachian music on harmonica, along with Hawaiian slack key tunes on guitar. He has a great appreciation for excellent music and for the styles of original players. But he doesn't just reach into and reinterpret the playing of such musicians as New Orleans pianist James Booker, and he is not simply influenced by contemporary musicians like violinist Nigel Kennedy, although both these musicians have had their effect on his work. Winston has absorbed the music of virtuosi such as these and then added an emotional quality of his own. This way, he also takes a bold step forward, creating his own path for others to follow later. Night Divides the Day is one such step.

On this album, he presents 13 songs made famous by the Doors. The first time I heard him venture in this direction was at a concert. I must admit I thought I was listening to one of his own compositions, so original was his interpretation -- and the song was "Love Me Two Times," not exactly an unmistakable piece, either. The driving bass notes of the left hand, along with the near-honky-tonk right-hand melody playing and the pounding chords adding punctuation -- this was like nothing I had ever heard before and was, without doubt, the highlight of a tremendous show.

Now, he has finally gone into the studio and recorded 13 of his favorite Doors songs, songs that adapt perfectly to his piano playing. From "Light My Fire" to "Riders on the Storm," he has selected some pieces that, under normal circumstances, only a fool would attempt. How can one match up to the original versions of such songs? How can one replace the distinctive sounds of the Doors, their approach to rhythm, the worldly, expressive voice of Jim Morrison -- how can an instrumental track replace the sheer poetry of their songs? His approach is a mix of simplicity and quality. At no time does Winston attempt to impersonate the band or replace anything they have done. Instead, he hones in on the essence of the original pieces and, with great love and respect, performs them in a completely new environment.

The result is devastating. One is not tempted to make comparisons. Instead, these tracks are there to be appreciated for what they are: tremendous songs, played tremendously. In his excellent liner notes, he discusses his own influences and then in turn looks at the other genres and traditions the Doors reached into for inspiration. He draws together the disparate strands which make up this music and which have helped create this album.

Although it's relatively long at over an hour, it doesn't drag in any way. He balances tempos perfectly with timing changes at the right moments, he introduces unusual sounds, such as plucking the strings to his piano, without sounding "clever," and he switches moods appropriately between tracks. Yet there is also a tremendous continuity, similar to that found on the original albums by the Doors. It is almost as if the songs were written with a concept such as this album in mind.

And it is very much a concept album. Within the flow, there are high points and subdued moments, but it would not be right to separate any particular track. The recording needs to be heard whole. In fact, the longest track is almost 10 minutes long, and the length of tracks gives Winston the opportunity to explore the avenues that open up as the melodies are unveiled. Each piece is linked by the overall atmosphere, and that ambiance is only enhanced by the ebb and flow.

On the one hand, this is a tribute by an amazing musician to his favorite band. On the other, it's also a powerful interpretation of classic music. None of this would be possible had there been a weakness in either the original or the contemporary elements -- there is validity in both the Doors and in George Winston.

This is an excellent album, all the more appealing if you'd like a new screen saver for your computer - one is available on the disk. And for those who want to find out more about the Doors, the liner notes are invaluable. Although Winston writes that the story of the Doors "is best told by the members (of the band) and their closest associates," he steers the reader/listener in directions where more information can be found; his own experiences with the music show great insight not only into the band's progress but also into the evolution of their compositions, and the list of resources is of great interest.

- Rambles
written by Jamie O'Brien
published 23 August 2003

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