A Piano Christmas
2011 / HeartSong Music
Joseph Akins’ "A Piano Christmas" is an eclectic collection of sacred and secular Christmas carols arranged for solo piano. The twelve tracks include two medleys that bring the song total to fourteen. If you’ve ever seen Joseph Akins play live, you know that he is extremely versatile and can play in almost any musical style from classical to jazz, pop, new age, and country. All of those influences can be heard in these arrangements, with some of the songs slow and graceful and some more upbeat and fun. The album was recorded on a 9’ Yamaha concert grand piano, and the sound quality is wonderful! This album is sure to brighten the Christmas season for many years to come!
"A Piano Christmas" opens with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” one of the very first Christmas carols. As the song begins, the reverb is such that it sounds like the piano is in a huge hall or church. The first verse is played slowly and simply, concentrating on the haunting quality of the melody. Leading into the second verse is an improvisation of flowing chords that transitions into a contemporary version of the song that is much more active and rhythmic with rolling chords in the bass and a singing right hand. I can’t wait for the sheet music for this one! Next up is “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).” This one is a beautiful slow jazz arrangement that is poignant and heartfelt. Akins’ arrangement is one of my favorites of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Flowing and graceful, it is both traditional and contemporary with a lovely improvisation in the middle. “Little Drummer Boy” has a catchy rhythm that updates the song and breathes new life into it. I’ve heard “Carol of the Bells” paired with quite a few other Christmas carols, but not with “We Three Kings.” Akins’ arrangement is brilliant. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this version in concert, and was spellbound; the recording is just as exciting. It begins with very deep, dark notes in the bass of the piano, again with a little extra reverb for a spacious, echoing effect. Short sections of both carols serve as an intro, and then the two songs alternate. At 5 1/2 minutes, Akins has time to really play with both songs, presenting them in different styles. Dark and intense, I think this one is the best of the bunch - and they’re all great! I usually think of “O Holy Night” as very dark and dramatic, but Akins’ arrangement is much lighter and more playful - a very interesting change! The medley of “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is a ton of fun and shows a different side of Akins! “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” closes the album with warmth and optimism.
"A Piano Christmas" is a winner from beginning to end! You can add it to your Christmas collection at www.josephakins.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!!!
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