Fresh Aire II

Mannheim Steamroller

American Gramaphone Records, 1977

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/22/1999

With the official start of fall arriving today, it seemed appropriate to dip back into the world of Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller for a look at Fresh Aire II, the group's second album which - appropriately enough - was supposedly centered on fall.

Mannheim Steamroller's first Fresh Aire disc had some great music - including a style that had rarely been heard at that time - but the group seemed to rely too much on keyboardist Jackson Berkey. For their second outing in 1977, the group touted an expanded lineup (which still centered around Berkey and percussionist/leader Davis), but Mannheim Steamroller wanted to make their presence truly felt on the scene.

What they did, in effect, was reaffirm the statement that new age music was here and was not going away - and they also worked to bring classical music into the 20th Century. A lot of the melodies I heard on this release I could have easily pictured artists like Bach or Beethoven writing had they known about this musical road they could have travelled. (The benefit of the synthesizer and electricity would have helped matters as well.) And while this road isn't always so smooth, it is the logical next step for this group.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first half of Fresh Aire II revolves around the theme of doors and different feelings, many of which revolve around a central theme in the music. Often, the feel of these pieces is very Medieval, which I happen to enjoy. You can hear some of the same elements that made up portions of the first Fresh Aire disc - and if you're well schooled in this group, you can even hear the seeds being planted for their eventual dip into Christmas music.

Interestingly enough, Davis and crew are able to keep things interesting throughout all seven movements in this portion of the album - though I will admit the theme does get a little tiring near the end. While the classical purists might scoff at the idea, I honestly believe that pieces such as these could be considered modern-day classical music, even though they implement such things as the drum kit. (I do like the addition of the chanting, albeit briefly, in this piece.)

And while Berkey's keyboard work is still vital to the success of Mannheim Steamroller, it does seem like some of the pressure has been taken off him, and thrown to the now-expanded lineup. This proves to be a good thing, for this time around, one doesn't get tired of hearing Berkey's work constantly.

Case in point: The second half of Fresh Aire II opens with "Interlude V", a continuation of the interlude series started one album prior. This being the only piece in this vein, Berkey's work becomes a rarer commodity, and this piece is one to be savored.

The remainder of Fresh Aire II consists of pieces that could be considered mood music, though I'd hardly say that any of these pieces are indicative of the fall season. "Velvet Tear," while a remarkable piece, sounds like a song you'd hear either at a funeral or at the end of a broken relationship. I always thought that fall was a time of celebrating the joys and labors of the spring and summer, as you experience the fruits (and vegetables) of the past months.

There are still one or two hit-or-miss pieces here; I'd easily label "Toora Lute" and "Going To Another Place" as "personal preference" tracks. I just happened to be a little let down by them. Your reaction may differ completely - and that's fine, since Mannheim Steamroller is the kind of group from which you can get out as much as you wish.

Fresh Aire II might not really be the most appropriate soundtrack for fall (I thought John McCutcheon did a better job capturing the flows and ebbs of the season), but it still is a pretty album, and one that showed that Mannheim Steamroller were a group to be taken very seriously.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 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.