Grumpy Monkey Music (2018)
Noël, the Christmas carol album from pianist Charles Denler, exemplifies the truism, "Quality over quantity." At a (relatively) scant 24 minutes long (signifying the 24 days of December preceding the holiday), Denler packs quite the punch (from a seasonal perspective) into this collection of nine well-known standards. His arrangements hew closely to the traditional renderings, although variations for each carol do come into play (nothing to diminish the enjoyment of the music if you consider yourself a carol purist). With I believe one exception, the album’s mood is quiet and subdued, ideal for either late night or early morning playing, when the house is quiet and a mood of repose and peace is sought. The album is listed on the cover as solo piano, but guest artist Richard Niezen makes some brief appearances on bass, cello and what I hear as orchestral strings. However, these appearances are quite sparse, so for all intents and purposes, yes, this is a solo piano offering by Denler.
I have previously noted in a review of one of this artist’s recordings that he mics his piano in a unique way. I don’t believe anyone else’s piano sounds quite like Denler's. There is a softness, a muted sense of the tone itself. It’s possible some might not enjoy this particular aspect of the album, although I find it, for me personally, it increases the music’s intimacy. The tracks include such standards of the season as "What Child Is This," "Silent Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "the title track (note: some song titles are either shortened or altered, e.g. "What Child," "Hark The Herald," and "Joy To All").
With so many new age-styled Christmas/holiday albums to choose from, across a wide spectrum of styles (e.g. secular versus spiritual carols, up-tempo to subdued, multiple instruments versus solo efforts), I think Noël easily earns a spot in almost everyone’s holiday collection. Denler’s softly nuanced playing deserves close attention but the recording can also be enjoyed in the background (I prefer the former though). I imagine this album, paired with a softly glowing fire and snow falling outside, might be a perfect Christmas Eve soundtrack.