Fresh Aire III

Mannheim Steamroller

American Gramaphone Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In my head, there is the most basic of an outline for a screenplay I could write if I found the time - you know, one that Roger Ebert would piss all over for being formulatic, but one which audiences would probably love despite the critics. Along with some basic scenes, I have a portion of the soundtrack planned out in my head - which encompasses half of Fresh Aire III, the 1979 outing from Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller.

Working around the theme of summer (and the perfect album to listen to this weekend, when the temperature in Chicago was over 50 degrees), Davis and crew take the lessons they learned over the course of their first two outings and create quite possibly the most cohesive Mannheim Steamroller album ever. The only qualms I have are the length of one or two pieces, but otherwise, you might find it hard to take this one out of your CD player.

It's interesting to hear some of the combinations of styles that Davis uses, even if some of them might have been subconscious. Take the Middle Ages-like bridge on "Toccata," punctuated by the recorder and harpsichord. Sandwiched in between some wonderful electronica (at least circa 1979, though I still think it sounds fresh today), it's shocking for the first moment you hear it, but you quickly realize that, hey, this combination my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 works . Having lived with a cassette of this album on and off for over a year now, hearing that stylistic switch is almost as natural as breathing, and just as exhilirating.

Likewise, "Small Wooden Bach'ses" is supposed to have a Renaissance-like feel, but the combination of Clavichord, violin and viola almost sounds like what would happen if Mozart visited the Orient. This is by no means a slam on either the piece or Davis's orchestration; rather, it's taking two unrelated styles, as different as night and day, and making them harmonize beautifully. That all said, I doubt that Davis was going for an Oriental feeling for this piece; that's just my gut reaction. To each their own, I guess.

I am truly surprised that no film maker has picked up on the raw emotion that is "Amber," a tune which could just have easily come from the pen of soundtrack virtuosos like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams. And "Mere Image," another song which glorifies a pseudo-Medieval-meets-Celtic vibe, packs quite a whallop all its own, though it occasionally feels like it's stretched a little too long. (Memo to Davis: I understand what you were trying to accomplish with this song by reading the liner notes - but those also ruined my original view of the piece, which was originally one of sheer joy and celebration. Sometimes, the less said, the better.)

The second half of Fresh Aire III has taken me the longest to warm up to, but once the lightbulb in my head went on, I was able to recognize these selections as being quite beautiful as well. "Morning" and "Interlude 6" paint a pretty portrait of a summer in the woods, while "The Cricket," in all its electronic bombasity, reminds us that lighter moments are intregal in all forms of music. "The Sky" is a track which has me comparing it a lot to something I once heard on a John Zorn album, just from the instrumentation of the piano. It's a stirring piece that you might not get on first listen, but it's well worth the time and effort.

Fresh Aire III has moments which listeners will undoubtedly embrace the first moment they hear the songs, yet the album as a whole is not one which you will immediately grasp. Like certain selections, it's well worth the effort to go back and spend the 33-plus minutes each time listening to this disc.

Who knows? Maybe one day I will write that screenplay. And if I do, one of the first calls I'd make would be to Chip Davis to beg for permission to use a good portion of Fresh Aire III. Yes, kids, it's that good.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of American Gramaphone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.