Published on November 16, 2011
Itâ€™s that time of year again and the Christmas discs are crossing my desk, whether requested on not. Hereâ€™s our annual survey of what we auditioned, and it will start off with two SACDs:
Fiona Joy Hawkins â€“ Christmas Joy â€“ Little Hartley Music multichannel SACD FJH013 *****:
This excellent discâ€”more than your usual Christmas albumâ€”is identified as in the New Age genre, but actually partakes of many world music influences, including Gaelic, Digeridoo, Paraquayan harp, and a variety of ethnic rhythms. Soprano sax and strings are also part of the backing of the piano of Fiona Joy Hawkins. Her SACD was produced by Corin Nelsen and Will Ackerman, who did many Windham Hill albums and also Hawkinsâ€™ previous Blue Dream SACD.
Starting out as a classically-trained pianist, Hawkins likes to create music evoking images, and mixes world influences with classical and jazz, and New Age mysticism. Among the backing musicians on the date are Will Ackerman on guitar, Eugene Friesen on cello, Tony Levin on bass guitar, and Philip Aaberg did the orchestral arrangements.
The disc opens with â€œWalking in the Air,â€ a striking tune by Howard Blake which is far from hackneyed and whose haunting melody will take your breath away. The second verse has Hawkinâ€™s singing in Gaelic, though most of the tracks are instrumental. â€œGliding on a Sleighâ€ features a violin and soprano sax duo, and you havenâ€™t lived if you have never heard â€œJingle Bellsâ€ played on a digeridoo! Some of the 11 tunes are done a bit slower than we normally hear them, but with the lovely arrangements tempi seem just right. â€œChristmas Joyâ€ cuts loose with many different instruments, and the closing â€œAway in a Mangerâ€ is done as a tender lullaby.