Mannheim Steamroller – Fresh Aire I

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Artist: Mannheim Steamroller
Genre: Neo-Classical, Rock
Title: Fresh Aire
Released: 1975
Label: American Gramaphone
Format: Vinyl
Musicians: Jackson Berkey – keyboards, Eric Hansen – Bass, Chip Davis – Drums, Recorder, other toys, Denny Schneider – Trumpet, Bill Buntain – Trombone, Don Sears – Synthesizer programming, Mortimer Alpert, Dorothy Brown, Hugh Brown, Miriam Duffelmeyer, Ginny Eldred, Lucinda Gladics, James Hammond, Jean Hassel, Joe Landes, Karl Lyon, Bob Malec, Beth McCollum, Virginia Moriarty, Dorothy Redina, Joe Rosenstein, Merton Shatzkin, Alex Sokol, Jess Stern, Larry Sutton, Paul Todd – Strings
Producer: Don Sears & Chip Davis
All songs written by Chip Davis
Engineer: Don Sears, Ron Ubel & Jeff Schiller

Mannheim Steamroller is an American rock band,founded by Chip Davis, that is known primarily for its series of Fresh Aire albums, which blend classical music and rock, and for its modern recordings of Christmas music.

I used to call it Anaheim Steamroller as a joke because for a while I kept mispronouncing the name Mannheim (I kept adding an “a” between the second “n” and the “h”). (From Wikipedia)-Mannheim Steamroller began as an alias for record producer and composer Chip Davis. The name “Mannheim Steamroller” comes from an 18th-century German musical technique, Mannheim roller (German: Mannheimer Walze), a crescendo passage having a rising melodic line over an ostinato bass line, popularized by the Mannheim school of composition.
Since no major label would handle its distribution, Davis founded his own music label, American Gramaphone (a play on the classical record label Deutsche Gramophone), to release the album. The result, Fresh Aire, was released in 1975 under the pseudonym Mannheim Steamroller. Fresh Aire II was subsequently released in 1977 and Fresh Aire III was released in 1979. The first four Fresh Aire albums constituted an exploration of the four seasons, with Fresh Aire being spring, Fresh Aire II being fall, Fresh Aire III being summer, and Fresh Aire IV being winter. All four of these albums maintained the blend of baroque classical music, light jazz, and rock, and featured Jackson Berkey’s virtuosic keyboard work. Davis and Berkey would use whatever instrument seemed appropriate to the piece, using toy piano on one piece and full pipe organ on another, with copious interweaving of piano and harpsichord.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannheim_Steamroller
Official website: http://www.mannheimsteamroller.com/

American Gramaphone puts out some of the best vinyl pressings I’ve ever heard. I don’t know exactly how they do it there, but their quality control is great. I also have no idea what the provenance (recording source) is on the records, but it’s not CD files slapped onto vinyl. They also put out CDs which in my experience are “ok”….not bad, but I imagine they may sound better on higher-end CD players rather than the mid-fi ones I have.

In 1987, Davis collaborated with guitarist/composer Mason Williams for the album Classical Gas. The music was composed entirely by Williams but produced and arranged by Davis.

Fresh Aire is the first album. I’ve often heard the artists referred to as “New Age”. I suppose if you were to engage in a long stretch, you could attach that label, but I think Neo-Classical and rock are more accurate. I think the “new age” label comes mostly from the fact that, some of the music is mellow and liner notes are often associated with seasons or elements and on occasion environmental sounds are used, so the assumption is made. I’m glad they opt for using real strings, drums, brass, recorder and bass instead of making all that some digital effect or synthesized. The keyboards are synthesized though, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
On this LP, besides the eponymous seventh tune, several of the track names are plays on musical terms denoting the form of that song. The title track “Fresh Aire” is an air, “Saras Band” is a sarabande, and perhaps most cleverly, “Pass the Keg (Lia)” is a passacaglia.

Side One:
Prelude/Chocolate Fudge: This opener is one of my favorites. It starts out with solo piano, but then picks up dramatically along with the addition of the obvious synths. I also like this song for it many nice changes.

Interlude I: Another favorite here. I like the nice subtle use of environmental sounds that accompany the piano in this piece. It’s really beautiful and has a very calming effect to a worried mind if you will.

Sonata: This piece is an interesting blend of piano, harpsichord, clavichord, strings and slight percussion.

Interlude II: This is one of my least favorite pieces on the LP. It’s basically synthesized bells that are panned  back and forth. Pretty annoying.

Saras Band: Getting back to music after the noise of the previous track, this piece is a cheery tune. It starts with a recorder sounding rather 16th century in feel. Then a moment later everything else kicks in taking it to a pop music feel. Another favorite on this LP.

Side Two:
Fresh Aire: This is the title cut. It starts out slow and kind of like a dirge throughout with just harpsichord and electric piano. According to the liner notes it is supposed to be inspired from lying on one’s back on some July’s evening just looking up at the stars. I get a different feel from it though, kind of a sad feel.

Rondo: This is another favorite of mine off this LP. I interpreted this piece as perhaps the life of a raindrop or raindrops, if you will, told on piano and by the full band. It’s a particularly strong piece.

Interlude III: More good use of environmental sounds with piano in this piece. To me this song kind of goes with being by a brook.

Pass The Keg: No, this is not a party song, but it is up tempo indeed. The thing about this track though is that it had me starting to question the pressing I have. After further evaluation and comparison though it turns out it is the recording. The microphone set up they used on this track seems to be different if not interesting, although a bit hot. It kind of sounds like they placed the microphones too close to the instruments because if you listen close you can hear some of the mics almost being hit by drum sticks and such. I’m not sure if they were going for more of a live sound or what, but it didn’t work that well.

Interlude IV: This track is just plain too slow, dull and drones on.

Mist: This is a beautiful closing piece. It mainly consists of strings and piano, except i also heard what sounds like a speed issue and it was not from my turntable. It sounds like a tape speed issue.

I took away half a star for sound quality due to the anomalies I encountered.

MUSIC: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars
SOUND: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Prelude / Chocolate Fudge: (No, this is not my table, but it’s a well done recording on you tube and sourced from vinyl) https://youtu.be/wBPZBi_60pw

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