Joy Noel David Lanz 2013 / Moon Boy Music 51.2 minutes
"Joy Noel" is the long-awaited new Christmas album from pianist/composer/arranger David Lanz, one of my all-time favorite artists. This collection of fifteen piano solos includes new recordings as well as some of the pieces from Lanz’s 2000/2004 limited release, "Angel In My Stocking." Six of the pieces are originals and the arrangements include a wonderful take on John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” - a very fitting finale (or encore) to Lanz’s two recent Beatles tribute albums. Most of the originals are improvisations that run 1-2 minutes, with the exception of the lovely title track from "Angel In My Stocking." I have always loved the music from Lanz’s 1994 "Christmas Eve" (I can’t believe it’s been that long!), but I like "Joy Noel" even better - especially the improvisations. For pianists, a companion songbook will be available next year since Joy Noel got kind of a late launch in 2012.
The album begins with “Joy Noel Prelude,” a 1 1/2 minute improvisation that sets the tone of what is to follow - smooth, soft-spoken, and very expressive. “Coventry Carol” is one of my favorite songs of the season, and I love this arrangement. The intro sounds mostly improvised, but then the song comes in with its dark intensity and emotional impact. There has been a trend over the past several years of slowing “Jingle Bells” ‘way down and making it almost sad. Lanz slowed his arrangement, but it is far from sad. Very fluid and nostalgic, it creates a special kind of mood that is closer to serene than effervescent. I have always loved the simple innocence of “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella,” and Lanz preserves the innocent quality while giving it his special touch. “Noel Nouvelet” is a lesser-known carol (by name anyway), and Lanz gives it a strong energy akin to “Dark Horse,” one of his signature pieces. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sheet music for this one! Fun!!! “Good King Wenceslas” is very spirited and joyful and Lanz’s is one of my favorite solo piano arrangements of “Carol of the Bells.” I’m also really looking forward to the sheet music for “We Three Kings” - gorgeous and haunting at the same time! The closing track is a sweet and gentle arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy.” If you aren’t in the Christmas spirit by the end of this album, your humbug factor is ‘way too high!
I usually have a tough time reviewing Christmas music the week before Christmas (I get saturated from reviewing and teaching it for months before the holidays), but I can honestly say "Joy Noel" is pure listening heaven! It’s available from www.DavidLanz.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!