Jonathan Widran (Sep 30 2023)
SUSAN CRAIG WINSBERG,
One of the silver linings of the pandemic, at least creatively, was the opportunity it afforded musicians sidelined from their regular flow of studio and touring activities to express themselves in exciting, unexpected ways. Of the hundreds of Covid-era songs and larger scale projects on my radar, however, none have captured the balance of uniquely dreary/monotonous days and anxious/restless emotion inherent in those unprecedented times as picture perfectly as Grammy winning flutist and pianist Susan Craig Winsberg’s ominously (yet perfectly!) titled “Strange Times.”
Artfully conveying the idea of months being “all dressed up with nowhere to go,” the multi-talented composer, musician and all-around Renaissance woman – whose several decade discography features everything from Celtic to spa music – opens with a dark, moody/bluesy and wildly infectious (i.e. repetitive by design) ostinato piano pattern before the subtle rhythm section of Larry Steen (bass) and Chris Wabich (drums) kicks in.
This sets the stage for the slowly building cry of freedom from the shackles of creative confinement, expressed via Winsberg’s gorgeous, freewheeling flute melody and increasingly dynamic improvisations – including a second round with doubling harmonies. Each burst of flurried notes reflects the rising, then soaring emotions that push back against and ultimately transcend the sense of imprisonment.
What ultimately becomes a powerful dance between the established piano pattern and the explosive flute runs breezes on for a total of six blissful, fascinating minutes, ultimately capturing the reality of the flutist going mad. Even if we took the pandemic backstory out, “Strange Times” is a glorious showcase for Winsberg’s fresh musical imagination.