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BRATTLEBORO—A small village on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Positano is perched on the cliffs as it empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea below.

There, over the course of a week in 2018, Grammy-winning guitarist and producer Will Ackerman wrote the music for his new solo album, Songs of Positano (Imaginary road music, 2022). He came out with 24 viable musical ideas.

Ackerman has visited Positano for over three decades and says it remains “one of the most beautiful places on Earth”.

“You have to climb thousands of stairs to navigate the landscape of Positano,” he says. “You have to be fit to visit or live there.”

Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records and producer of hundreds of professional musicians, feels at home on stage at Carnegie Hall, on tour in Japan or at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A Renaissance man of sorts, he is as at home in the foothills of the Green Mountains as he is surfing in Kauai.

For the past decade, he’s been busy working on group releases, including Flow, four guitars, and Brothers, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Age Album in 2022.

Songs postiano was co-produced by Tom Eaton and Ackerman and recorded at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios. The album was mixed and mastered by Eaton.

Of the 10 songs on the album, two are solo pieces by Ackerman. The other eight are performed by Ackerman on guitars, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Noah Wilding on vocals and Eaton on bass and piano, with Eugene Friesen on cello and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn.

“I hadn’t written new music in a while, and it occurred to me that if there was one place in this world where I could possibly find inspiration and write again, this would be in Positano,” muses Ackerman.

As described in Ackerman’s liner notes, the songs chronicle snapshots of his connection to the Italian village, beginning with music that talks about his marriage to his wife, Susan.

In “For Giovanni”, he recounts how he stays in the upstairs apartment of Giovanni and Rosita Russo’s house whenever he visits Positano, which he describes as “a second home for me for many years. “.

“Watching the FIFA World Cup matches with him is one of my fondest memories,” Ackerman said of Russo. “This song is about the years I had this dear man as a friend.”

One album, three guitars

Ackerman played three different guitars on this album, but his primary instrument is the Froggy Bottom Will Ackerman Signature Model K guitar, hand-built by Michael Millard.

Millard, formerly of Newfane and now of Tunbridge, is the owner and builder of these guitars as well as one of Ackerman’s dearest friends. The description of the Will Ackerman guitar on the luthier’s website is a tribute to the musician’s impact on the recording of acoustic guitars and a heartfelt testament to their friendship and collaboration.

“Millard is at the forefront of this movement of master luthiers,” says Ackerman. “His guitars have defined my sound for the past four decades. All solos and other tracks are on this guitar.

When reached by phone, Millard explains, “Will is renowned for his altered tunings, he plays the guitar and tunes it wherever the muse takes him, then creates music around that tuning.”

Froggy Bottom began building the Model K for Ackerman in 1999, from Madagascar rosewood and red spruce. “It became the guitar he wanted to use for everything,” he says. “Then at one point the guitar was nearly destroyed and turned into a pile of toothpicks during a theft, and it took me over a year to restore it. I made a backup for that he no longer goes on the road.

Their relationship goes beyond a luthier and a guitarist.

“Will has been a very loyal friend, one of the kindest and most honest people I know. He is a very special human being,” remarks Millard. They bonded to harvest trees and work together in Millard is certain that Ackerman has “influenced the acoustic guitar world as much as anyone else”.

The other six-string Ackerman uses is a Jumbo K Model guitar from Steve Klein of California. “When you play lead, you want a different sound to distinguish it from the chord part. I used the Klein for the lead guitar parts,” Ackerman noted.

The third guitar used in this recording is a small Martin parlor guitar that the late guitarist Michael Hedges gave to Ackerman years ago. The story goes that Ackerman signed Hedges to a record deal with Windham Hill Records on a napkin at a California club after hearing him perform for the first time.

Leader at 72

Ackerman, 72, is excited to explore a distinctive new element for his own music: melodic lead guitar work. This is the real hallmark of this album, he explained.

“The most important element of this album is the presence of my more melodic input with lead guitar. I wasn’t entirely relying on the other players for the melody,” Ackerman said. this unique record in my career.”

Ackerman credits Eaton with manufacturing Songs of Positano possible.

“I got to experience what these guys are going through when I’m producing. I didn’t have to think on all levels — I just had to think and perform. Tom was me and he was telling me what worked and what was needed,” he says. “It was so great not having to be my own producer. I could just feel and play.

Among Ackerman’s musical influences is the piano solo of French composer Erik Satie. “Satie gave me permission to be simple,” Ackerman remarks.

He was also stylistically inspired by American guitarists John Fahey and Robbie Basho. He discovered them as well as the Takoma Records label with Basho and Leo Kottke.

“Positano Songs feels in many ways like a throwback to my earlier recordings. There are less bells and whistles and more of me. He feels more autonomous and therefore more intimate.


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