[Review] Mannheim Steamroller: Fresh Aire V (1983)

Chip Davis turns his composer’s eye from the four seasons to one of the earliest science fiction works, Johannes Kepler’s Somnium.

Kronomyth 5.0: The stately pleasure dome of Kepler Khan.

This might as well have been called Fresh Aether I, as the music of Fresh Aire V is based on the novel, Somnium (written by Johannes Kepler), which takes place (at least in part) on the moon. This is the same source as “Dream” that last appeared on Fresh Aire 4, and so you could see Fresh Aire V as a seamless continuation of the series, although it really isn’t. In fact, the medieval music that marked the original quartet is almost completely absent, here replaced by choir and orchestra (the London Symphony Orchestra, no less!) and lots of suitable space-rock sounds.

Fresh Aire V indulges Chip Davis’ interests in writing classical music and scoring soundtracks. At least, that’s how I’ve always heard it, since my takeaway is usually “Why didn’t more people try to hire Chip Davis to write soundtrack music after this?” Earth Rise, for example, sounds like it could have stepped from the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Elsewhere, Rick Wakeman and The Alan Parsons Project are the obvious reference points, while Z-Row Gravity sounds like German electronic space music.

Originally, I felt Davis went too far afield in making space music. These days, I can’t help but appreciate how well he pulls off the classical/pop hybrid. Opening with a Gregorian chant (Lumen), flowing into symphonic rock, breaking it up in the middle with some genuine space spelunkering… it’s a risky move in many ways for a group whose work had become, frankly, formulaic. I wouldn’t say the sum result is better than the first four albums, but it’s appreciably different. That I didn’t originally appreciate the difference speaks more to my lack of imagination than Mannheim Steamroller’s.

Davis liked the idea enough to revisit storytelling with an album based on Greek mythology, Fresh Aire VI, again featuring the Cambridge Singers and London Symphony Orchestra. Generally, I enjoy these albums more than the “natural” works that appeared between them (Saving the Wildlife, Yellowstone), as the literary works tend to fall more in the progressive camp, while nature is more frequently aligned with new age. That said, why you would pay any attention to the opinion of someone who can’t even make up their own mind is beyond me.

Original elpee version

A1. “Lumen” (New Light, a Chant for the Candlemass)
A2. Escape from the Atmosphere
A3. Release
A4. Dancin’ in the Stars
A5. Chant
B1. Z-Row Gravity
B2. Creatures of Levania
B3. Earth Rise
B4. Return
B5. The Storm

Composed by Chip Davis.

The Players

Jackson Berkey (keyboards), Cambridge Singers (choir), Chip Davis (conductor, percussion), Eric Hansen (electric bass), The London Symphony Orchestra with John Rutter (choirmaster), Mark Coniglio (Drumatix, Sequential Circuits programming), Louis Davis, Sr. (keyboards technician). Produced by Don Sears and Chip Davis; production assistance by John Rutter; engineered by John Richards, Don Sears, Jim Wheeler; technical engineer: Steve Ozaydin.

The Pictures

Album jacket art director: Carol Eggleston Davis. Painting by Gilbert Williams.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on November 1, 1983 in the US (American Gramaphone, AG/AGC/AGCD-385) with gatefold cover. Reached #25 on the US New Age charts in 1994.

  1. Re-released on remastered compact disc on September 12, 2000 in the US (American Gramaphone, 5005) with unique cover.

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