Mannheim Steamroller

Fresh Aire 7

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Chip Davis didn't have to look far for inspiration on Fresh Aire 7, using the occasion to indulge a long-standing interest in the number seven. The result is rather strict program music: the seven chakras are aligned to seven unique works, the seven colors (or "colours" if you live in the U.K. or Nebraska) of the rainbow are transcribed into seven separate notes/instruments, a seven-part rondo is recorded between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a single day, etc. Of course, this sort of mystic numerology is a natural fit for new age, a point acknowledged when Fresh Aire 7 won the Grammy in 1991 for Best New Age Album, but luck had little to do with it. Combining synthesizers with an orchestra and choir (old pal Jackson Berkey occasionally appears behind the harpsichord), Davis bridges acoustic and electronic sounds together into a new age/classical tapestry more rich in color and effect than most of his contemporaries. Having left medieval rock behind him, Davis has evolved into a savvy electronic composer on a par with Michael Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Vangelis, but his electronics are always tempered with a human element. The disc begins with "Conjuring the Number 7," uncorking a bubbly bottle of musical champagne at the onset. "Sunday the 7th Day" re-creates the scene of fox hunts from Davis' hometown region, an engaging confection of light classical music. "The 7 Colours of the Rainbow" may be the most steeped in new age idioms, featuring soothing sounds with rolling notes; "The 7 Metals of Alchemy" is edgier, inviting comparison to contemporary Tangerine Dream or Oldfield. Both pieces rank among the best electronic compositions in the Mannheim catalog. But the album's highlight is the extended work, "The 7 Chakras of the Body." "Chakra 1" starts in the primitive forest, "Chakra 2" mixes mechanical sounds with an Eastern melody, and soon Davis has left the earth in a mix of angelic voices and keyboards that achieves the same effect as Harold Budd's best work. "The 7 Stars of the Big Dipper" closes the disc on a note of childlike wonder. Though "The 7 C's" is really just a puddle of a pun, Fresh Aire 7 is a septemfluous collection of sounds that channels Davis' creative energies, and in the end it's new age's cup that overfloweth. Mannheim Steamroller seems to just get better with age, due largely to Davis' boundless curiosity.

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