Mannheim Steamroller

Fresh Aire III

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Like its namesakes, Fresh Aire III is a series of song-specific themes (the life cycle, the forest) couched within a larger seasonal theme (this time, summer). Listeners will find the same mix of medieval music, progressive keyboard rock, and soft instrumentals that made up the first two Fresh Aire albums in varying amounts. The new wrinkle is music that better leverages the part-time string sections as composer Chip Davis casts his arrangements in a contemporary classical setting. On a piece like "Mere Image," originally written for the Omaha Ballet and chronicling the passage of life from young to old, the music blossoms in the hands of an orchestra. However, sentimentality gets the better of Davis on "Morning," resulting in sub-Sergei Rachmaninoff mawkishness. Balancing out the orchestral pieces are the medieval/prog rock keyboard showcases for Jackson Berkey ("Toccata," "The Cricket," "Midnight on a Full Moon"), again bearing a strong resemblance to the work of Rick Wakeman, and the thoughtful instrumentals painted in watercolor tones ("Amber," "Interlude 6," "The Sky"). At this stage, the notes explaining the program behind the music are less illuminating than didactic; after all, this isn't rocket science. It is, however, a well-balanced alliance of Davis' own musical development and the spirit of nature and history that runs through all of the Fresh Aire releases. Incorporating the sounds of nature into "The Woods Is Alive," writing music set to motion for "Mere Image," these represent incremental steps for Chip Davis as a composer. Mannheim Steamroller wasn't about to abandon their Fresh Aire aesthetics, yet they manage to move forward within those musical parameters with each album.

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