Posts Tagged ‘Celtic Christmas’

An Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings

December 16, 2013

Christmas begins today with An Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings
Moya Brennan
Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning and Wendy Goodwin

Aisling Jarvis, Moya Brennan, Cormac De Barra in Echoes Living Room

Aisling Jarvis, Moya Brennan, Cormac De Barra in Echoes Living Room

I don’t know how Celtic music came to signify winter, but  slow aires and Celtic harps seem to exemplify a quieter and more atmospheric side of the Winter season.  We’ve dipped into that sound on Sonic Seasonings several times over the years and we’re doing it again.

Last week we recorded our seasonal live performance show, recording two concerts in 24 hours on opposite coasts.  You can hear them tonight on an Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings.

IrishChristmasThis year we have two artists returning.  On Monday afternoon, December 9, with fresh fallen snow on the ground, Moya Brennan came to the Echoes living room with her long time partner, harpist Cormac De Barra and her daughter Aisling Jarvis.  In a testament to time, I first interviewed Moya backstage at the TLA Theater in Philadelphia in 1993 when she was pregnant with Aisling.  And at the time, Moya spelled her name Máire Ní Bhraonáin.

Moya is acclaimed as the singer of Clannad, the Irish band that was part of the Celtic renaissance that began in the 1970s.  That band reformed this year for the album, Nadur, but Moya has been solo for the last 15 years.  This past year she released the album, Affinity with Cormac De Barra under the banner of Voices & Harps.  She also re-released her album, An Irish Christmas with bonus tracks.  We’ll hear this trio in a weave of harp strings and heart-rending harmonies when they play live on An Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings.

Jeff Johnson, Wendy Goodwin, Brian Dunning recording Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings

Jeff Johnson, Wendy Goodwin, Brian Dunning recording Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings

Immediately following Moya’s show in our southeastern Pennsylvania living room, Jeff Towne and I hopped on a flight to Seattle and the next day, December 10, we were in the home studio of keyboardist Jeff Johnson where he’d gathered his Celtic trio of flutist Brian Dunning and violinist Wendy Goodwin.
Jeff Johnson is a veteran of Celtic cross-over and devotional albums with dozens of CDs out on his own Ark Music label as well as Windham Hill and Hearts of Space Records.  Brian Dunning has been with him on many of those

Goodwin, Johnson, Dunning, Diliberto

Goodwin, Johnson, Dunning, Diliberto

recordings.  He has a connection to the early Celtic renaisance as a member of the band Nightnoise which included guitarist Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and his sister, singer and keyboardist Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill.  Mícheál, who died in 2006 had been a member of the legendary and influential Bothy Band.  They are joined by Portland-based violinist Wendy Goodwin who released her solo debut, Place of Refuge last year. Collectively, the trio released a gorgeous CD, of pastoral, ambient winter chamber works called Winterfold this past fall and it’s in the Echoes Top 25 for 2013
WinterfoldThe trio crammed into Johnson’s studio and played beautiful arrangements of music from this album and drew from tracks that have appeared on Johnson & Dunning’s A Quiet Knowing albums and a few Windham Hill collections.

So sit back tonight and enjoy the best Christmas music you’ll hear this year; a sound that will take you out of the shopping malls and into your heart on An Echoes Celtic Sonic Seasonings

John Diliberto (((echoes)))


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Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning Bring Christmas Under the Wonder Sky

November 30, 2010

Echoes December CD of the Month
Jeff Johnson,  Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin: Under The Wonder Sky

Your Christmas CD for 2010 has slipped down the chimney.

It’s been seven years since we had a seasonal album as our Echoes December CD of the Month.  That was A Windham Hill Christmas, Vol. 2. Not coincidentally, two of the artists on that album were Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning.

Like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning have forged an enduring, if not nearly as tumultuous or lucrative, relationship.  They’ve been together for more than 20 years, since they met in Portland, Oregon.  At that time, Johnson was a rising Christian artist while Dunning was in the popular Windham Hill Celtic fusion group, Nightnoise.  Despite the fact that Dunning now lives in his native Ireland and Johnson has moved to Camano Island in Washington, they continue to work and record together.  On Under the Wonder Sky they’re joined by violinist Wendy Goodwin.

Hear “Come Thou, Long Expected Jesus”

The duo has made some of my favorite Christmas music over the years, beginning with several tracks on Windham Hill Winter Solstice and Christmas samplers to their own albums like the haunting A Quiet Knowing Christmas.  With Under the Wonder Sky, they’ve thrown the log on the fire of yet another near perfect seasonal recording.

Johnson, Dunning and Goodwin take the schlock out of Christmas, with inventive song selection and arrangements that fall between the moody and the pastoral.  You won’t find any sleigh bells on this CD.  Although a bouncy rendition of “Greensleeves” opens the album, it’s the second track, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” that sets the tone.  A traditional Christmas hymn based on “Gloria In Excelsis Deo,” Brian Dunning trades off the melody with violinist Wendy Goodwin in a song that is at once yearning and wistful.

Many of the songs here are lesser known carols and hymns like “As With Gladness, Men of Old” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.”  But even when they play a chestnut like “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Johnson & Dunning shear it of the corny sentimentality usually associated with that melody and turn it into a quietly classical chamber work full of atmosphere that seems to literally emerge out of a crystal night sky, wafting in luminous hues.

Hear “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”

Although “Away in a Manger” resists their attempts to turn it into a pastoral meditation, it’s hard to go wrong with “Wexford Carol.”  They give the Irish tune a deceptive opening with Dunning stating the theme on a deep bass flute over an ominous drone but then it breaks into a lively rhythm suitable for wassailing.

Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning-Echoes Concert 2004

Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning are wonderful composers and if this album has a flaw, it’s that there aren’t more of their  original compositions on it.  That’s borne out by Johnson’s lone contribution of the title track.  Loosely based on “I Wonder as I Wander,” Johnson opens with a solo piano prelude then shifts into a pensive two-note piano bass line  with Goodwin creating a gentle violin arc while he assembles sparse, echoing sampled and electronic percussion, followed by Dunning’s percussive flute.  A slow build crests the hill and opens up on a rolling panorama of strummed guitar and Dunning’s flute interweaving again with Goodwin’s lilting violin.

Hear “Under the Wonder Sky”

Brian Dunning’s “As the Child Sleeps” uses a rapid arpeggio guitar riff from Tim Ellis to set the mood before it slips into a wistful ballad with Dunning playing low whistle.

The album ends on a parlor music note in a trio as Johnson sits at an acoustic piano with Dunning and Goodwin on flute and violin.  But even here, Johnson can’t resist some electronic keyboard harmonizing of the sacred melody.

Whether you celebrate Christmas with spiritual intent or just love the quiet mood and reflective atmosphere of the winter season, Under the Wonder Sky is a perfect soundtrack.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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