Mannheim Steamroller

Fresh Aire 4

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Winter had a polarizing effect on the band, drawing them toward a more severe, economical sound that favored clarity over sentimentality. Gone were the overly romantic piano pieces and giddy medieval romps. This is music tinged with a certain sadness (as on "Red Wine"), at times alien and foreboding ("Crystal"). It's not a complete departure from their formula, but it does succeed at matching that formula to a specific season, moreso than the first three Fresh Aire records anyway. The album was originally split between outside (the first four tracks) and inside (the last four tracks), a point lost on the subsequent CD reissue. There's not a huge difference between the two; the medieval "Four Rows of Jacks" isn't so much different in spirit from the modern "Dancing Flames," and neither evokes the outdoors or indoors in particular. If Fresh Aire 4 is a better record than its predecessors, much of it depends on the listener's appreciation of synthesizers. Jackson Berkey uses them more here than on previous albums, and the music seems to sparkle as a result. It is their most modern record, embracing the world of electronic music on "Crystal" and "The Dream" (based on Johannes Kepler's work, which would serve as the launching point for Fresh Aire 5). The opening "G Major Toccata," as much fun as it is, almost sets the listener up to expect the same fare as the first three Fresh Aires. But the band quickly turns introspective, and by the closing "Embers" the mood has changed 180 degrees. Fresh Aire 4 remains their most effective evocation of a season, even if they are indoors for half of it. More importantly, it proves that the band could compete with modern musicians on their own turf.

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