Christmas Kevin Kern 2012 / Kevin Kern Music 56.4 minutes
The simply titled "Christmas" marks a very significant milestone in one of my favorite pianist/composer’s career. After more than a decade with Real Music, Kevin Kern has founded his own label and "Christmas" is his first release as an independent artist. While this album is distinctly Kevin Kern’s style with the melodies of these holiday favorites simple and heartfelt, Kern seems to be allowing his jazz roots to show a bit more prominently with rich harmonies and unexpected chord changes as well as some really interesting rhythms. This collection of sixteenth traditional Christmas songs and carols is completely solo piano (as was Kern’s final recording for Real Music, "Enchanted Piano"), something I’ve been hoping for and requesting for a long, long time. If you’ve ever seen Kern perform live, you know what a phenomenal pianist he is, so I’m thrilled to be able to hear Kern’s piano all by itself. The overall tone of the album is very smooth and peaceful with a few auditory surprises (very pleasant ones, I might add!). So, if you’re in the mood for some Christmas music that’s a little different (but not TOO different), this one is an excellent choice! For those of you who are pianists, you’ll be happy to know that there is a companion sheet music book for "Christmas."
"Christmas" begins with “Angels We Have Heard On High” in an arrangement that is both spirited and peaceful, setting the tone of the album. “Joy To the World” is slower than we usually hear it, but the relaxed tempo really brings out the poignance of the melody. “Away in a Manger” is a sweet, graceful, and tender lullaby. A segment of “Good King Wenceslas” found in the John Thompson piano teaching series is the first Christmas song many of us learned as young piano students, so it always surprises me to hear the song fully realized and fleshed out. Kern’s arrangement is in a lively theme and variations format where each verse is in a somewhat different style - a great arrangement! I also really like his take on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” A bit slower than usual, the contemporary chord voicings make this song sound brand new. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is something of a jazz waltz - slow and a little wistful. My favorite track is oddly one of my least-favorite carols - “O Christmas Tree” (probably because I got tired of teaching it to my beginning piano students). Kern’s arrangement is wonderful, and I love that he put some of the verses in a minor key! That really got my attention and brought on a great big grin! The album closes with “Silent Night,” the very first piece Kern ever learned - at the tender age of eighteen months (I don’t think he played this arrangement, though(!!!)). This version is as gentle and peaceful as falling snow and ends this lovely album with a sigh of contentment.
Congratulations to Kevin Kern on his new indie label and first Christmas collection! Christmas is available from www.kevinkern.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!