While we are waiting for Jillian Aversa’s Atlantis Awakening album, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter.com previously this year, I thought I wanted to repost my review of her fantastic Christmas album Through Sand and Snow, plus my interview with her.
Published April 23, 2009 | By BT Fasmer
Christmas is not only about nicely wrapped gifts, food and family gatherings, it is also about travel. Either it is Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, or an endless line of people in today’s world waiting at the check-in counter at the airport, Christmas is about travel. This is also the theme on Jillian Aversa’s Christmas release Through Sand and Snow. It is a 24 minute long EP with 6 beautiful tracks. The EP is both traditional and original at the same time, and yet another proof of Jillian’s incredible talent.
When her debut album Origins was released it took the new age music scene by storm. Jillian’s voice, her lyrics and the overall production of the album was like a breath of fresh air in a music genre where artists who debuted in the 70s and early 80s still play all the lead roles. The new age music scene desperately needs new talent, and here Jillian is our best hope. I must also mention Andrew Aversa (aka Zircon), who also contributed to the production.
The holiday EP opens with the 1 minute long Prelude. The ‘walking through snow’ sound, the eerie synth and Jillian’s ethereal voice is a nice build up to the second track: John Jacob Niles’ classic I Wonder as I Wander. A few months back Jillian posted a small clip from this song on her webpage without the voice layer. It was obvious to me that this would be a great version of the song, with a very interesting arrangement. Most versions of this song tend to be too sacral or too serious if you will. But the light and rolling drumbeat, which I guess is only a mixed sidestick sample, is marvelous. Jillian’s positive voice gives a new perspective to the usual melancholy of this popular Christmas carol.
The next track is What Child Is This, or Greensleeves. The arrangement is gentle and tasteful. Jillian’s breathing marks the rhythm, which is a nice effect. Both this track and the next, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, is traditional and could easily been included in any collection of Christmas music. It is a high quality production with a general appeal: you don’t have to like new age music to enjoy these tracks.
With Walking in the Air the EP takes a small break from religion. I am used to hear the song sung by a young boy in the animated film The Snowman, but Jillian does a great job. The bell synth gives the song a magical atmosphere, and the different layers of vocal intertwine beautifully. Silent Night is a perfect album closer. Jillian’s version is long, dreamy and simply irresistible. It starts with a warm sounding synth pad and a distant piano in the background. The different layers of sound create a total listening experience, almost like listening to heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! The EP ends with 30 seconds of cozy log fire sounds.
The cover artwork is by Daniel Kvasznicza. It captures the atmosphere of the songs. Here you can see Jillian walking through a desert landscape of either sand or snow, it is hard to tell. But it sure is beautiful. A piece of art.
Through Sand and Snow is like a musical journey with traditional Christmas songs as the guiding star. At the end of the travel is the perfect Christmas spirit. The album could have been longer though, but it is not too short either. The only thing I am missing is a less sacral, happier song. But then again all real new age artists release several Christmas albums in their career. Hopefully Jillian Aversa is only at the very beginning of her musical journey.
And here is my interview with interviewed Jillian Aversa about her debut album Origins and the Christmas EP Through Sand and Snow.
Jillian: Indeed, it was difficult to narrow down the list! I knew that I wanted to try my hand at several traditional carols, but I also thought it would be refreshing to include arrangements of a couple of lesser known pieces – namely Walking In the Air from the wonderful animated film The Snowman, and the Appalachian spiritual I Wonder As I Wander.
Possibly the greatest challenge was figuring out which songs had the potential to work with my original vision: a magical nighttime journey through the wilderness, on Christmas Eve. I was wary of selecting any traditionally happy sounding carols in major keys… But Andrew and I were overjoyed when we started finding inspiration for our arrangement of Silent Night. Everything had to have a certain ancient, ethereal quality.
BT Fasmer: The album is only 24 minutes long (23:48 to be precise). Would the album, or EP, have been longer if you had more time to work with it?
Jillian: It’s funny you should ask, because my answer may surprise you: no. I knew that there would not be time for a full length album before the holiday season… So with that in mind, I tried to think of ways I could pull of an EP as a special and cohesive project, rather than a collection of songs thrown together as an afterthought. It was quite fun watching the album take shape! Every sound and musical idea was meticulously planned in order to serve the greater whole, since I knew it would have to be short and sweet.
Don’t be surprised if you see a new holiday album from me in the future, however! There are so many great carols that I would love to get my hands on… and perhaps I’ll write a few original wintry pieces as well.
BT Fasmer: After listening to the results of your recent Origins Remix Contest, I must say that it was highly successful. How was it to have other artists working with your material?
Jillian: I was blown away by the quality of work submitted to the contest. Hearing my own songs arranged in such original and interesting ways was more delightful than I could have imagined at the outset. I will definitely, definitely have more remixing competitions in the future!
BT Fasmer: Today music production is all about computers and sequencers. I understand that you do a lot of the production yourself. Do you enjoy the technical aspects of music creation?
Jillian: It’s sort of a love-hate relationship. Choosing samples, mixing, and mastering is *incredibly* tedious when you are as picky as me, because part of what makes this kind of music sparkle is the production itself. I always have a very specific vision in mind, but translating that into sound is usually a tiring process of trial and error. That’s why I am thankful to have the help of my fiance, Andrew (a.k.a. zircon): he is masterful!
BT Fasmer: Thank you, Jillian. Best of luck with the new album, and have a great Christmas!