Sunday, December 8, 2013

REVIEW: John Malvey - "Silent Night" and "Noel"

"Silent Night" and "Noel" 

Electronic keyboard/guitarist artist John Malvey has two holiday carols on his soundclick page that are worth hearing as they represent unique spins on two traditional holiday songs. First is a synth-pop/electronica take on "Silent Night" that manages to sound contemporary and upbeat but not at the expense of the basic allure of this beloved carol. It opens with a wonderful sweeping synth wash, set alight with twinkling bell tones, before settling into a midtempo rhythm backdrop for the carol's melody, which by turns is played by the duo of synth-bass and keyboard. The second verse is played by flute with a backdrop of a bass/alto male choir. The bridge is quite lovely with a gentle improvisation on a piano-like keyboard surrounded by glistening and flowing textures and a lovely flute line, before the final verse ignites the sky with some snazzy electric guitar, well-mixed so as to not overpower the carol's spiritual aspect. The other carol is "Noel" which begins in a much more restrained style, with piano and subtle bell and chime tones, as well as subdued strings. Acoustic guitar takes over the lead melody at about the midpoint, and then once again, Malvey introduces electric guitar (this time with the added "oomph" of snare drums) for a brief injection of fire, before bringing the song to a gentler close. While traditionalists might bristle at the chill-out take on "Silent Night" or the brief flurry of stinging guitar on "Noel," I admire the artist's attempt to put a new, modern wrinkle on the two carols. Even rockers celebrate the holidays, don’t they? The two tracks can be heard (along with the artist's other works) at this link

REVIEW: Kathryn Toyama and Renaud Schmitt - "Silent Night"

"Silent Night"

Pianist Kathryn Toyama, working with Renaud Schmitt (orchestrations and arranger), have given holiday music lovers an early Christmas present–a free download of a wonderful version of "Silent Night." In Kathryn's words "We offer our rendition of 'Silent Night' with heartfelt intentions to raise vibrations throughout the world… may there be peace and harmony among all living beings." With music this lovely as inspiration, perhaps that hopeful vision is in sight. Toyama's sensitive piano performance is enhanced by Schmitt's orchestral embellishments (strings, horns, bells, percussion). Opening with an exquisitely serene first verse, the carol moves into a more dramatic passage with a choir and timpani adding even power and passion, before reverting to the gentler motif, the carol's melody carried by piano, bells, and strings. The track's magic makes me wish for a more fully realized holiday album by these two talented artists, so I guess that will have to be one of my wishes for the New Year. The track can be downloaded at Kathryn Toyama's bandcamp page here: