Phil Driscoll

Classic Hymns [Koch]

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This album will be difficult for bricks-and-mortar retailers to categorize, and online it will receive quite a variety of tags. Despite the presence of the rather mysterious London National Philharmonic Orchestra, the arrangements use conventions that will be unfamiliar to classical listeners. In the U.S. it might be classed as easy listening, and Christian music retailers will also take note -- the album has explicitly religious intent. Trumpeter Phil Driscoll's style is shaped by the likes of Doc Severinsen -- he employs jazz moves but tamps them down into familiar contours, and he's backed up with strings accented by novelties-used-as-luxuries like a harp or even a harpsichord. The album is intriguing in that what it attempts is quite unusual. Sample "In the Garden," track 4 on the first CD, to understand Driscoll's aims. This hymn, composed in 1912, owes its continuing popularity partly to Elvis Presley's lovely version. Its hushed, plain melody invites soaring instrumental treatments, and Driscoll makes something distinctive of the tune, with multiple octave runs that emphasize the melody even as they ornament it heavily. The program contains a number of Southern gospel hymns, including "The Old Rugged Cross" (the entire concept is American, despite the British recording locale and picture of Big Ben on the cover), mixed with other familiar congregational hymns; generally the orchestra or some subdivision lays down a soothing background and then embellishes Driscoll's lines for a thick texture. The whole enterprise is nicely recorded, keeping Driscoll in the clear even when there is a lot going on, and the trumpeter's notes give a good deal of insight into the background of these particular pieces and how he came to choose them. Probably this is of more interest to CCM listeners than to fans of the classical trumpet, but it's an offbeat item worth sampling for anybody.

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