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Christmas Joy Review

 

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION:

Published on November 16, 2011

 

It’s that time of year again and the Christmas discs are crossing my desk, whether requested on not. Here’s our annual survey of what we auditioned, and it will start off with two SACDs:

Fiona Joy Hawkins – Christmas Joy – Little Hartley Music multichannel SACD FJH013 *****:

This excellent disc—more than your usual Christmas album—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 Hawkins’ 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 “Walking in the Air,” a striking tune by Howard Blake which is far from hackneyed and whose haunting melody will take your breath away. The second verse has Hawkin’s singing in Gaelic, though most of the tracks are instrumental. “Gliding on a Sleigh” features a violin and soprano sax duo, and you haven’t lived if you have never heard “Jingle Bells” 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. “Christmas Joy” cuts loose with many different instruments, and the closing “Away in a Manger” is done as a tender lullaby.

—John Sunier

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