There’s nothing like some fresh air. Mannheim Steamroller’s 1975 debut album Fresh Aire I is like the first warm wind of spring, bringing with it the feeling of change, growth and optimism. Mannheim Steamroller is one of the pioneers of New Age music, and their debut album is 40 years later still fresh and original.
Fresh Aire I has so many stories to tell. Mannheim Steamroller was founded in 1974 by Chip Davis. The band’s name comes from the 18th century German musical term, Mannheimer Walze (Mannheim roller). A Mannheimer Walze is a rising melody over a repeating bass line. The band sold more than 40 million albums overall and is the bestselling Christmas artist of all-time. In time, many albums have been released in the Fresh Aire series (see list here), making Mannheim Steamroller into one of our genre’s most popular artists.
Long Time to Christmas
Everything has a beginning – and believe it or not, but there were a time when Mannheim Steamroller and Christmas weren’t synonyms. Their first Christmas album was released in 1984 and this first installment in the Fresh Aire series is all about another season: the spring.
In the short Prelude the sharp piano is like the first rays of sun in the spring morning, shining at the dandelions on the cover. Its atmosphere is serious and almost angry. It is probably ment as a contrast to track no. two, Chocolate Fudge, which is playful as a children’s cartoon. It is an impressive song, showing both talent and a willingness to combine genres and musical expressions – something which in time became Mannheim Steamroller’s hallmark.
Today, when several meditation and sounds of nature albums are released each week, it is different to understand just how revolutionary Fresh Aire I was in 1975. This is why the song Interlude I is considered a classic in New Age music; The gentle piano mixed with the sounds of rain and thunder is simply marvelous. This is one earlies example of this, and the million similar songs that followed by other artists are mere copies.
Even though Fresh Aire I is completely different to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973), it is tempting to make a comparison. Both albums are impossible to put a genre label on, both are inspired by jazz, classical and folk – and none of them are to be taken too seriously. When listening to the Fresh Aire I LP it plays like one work of art, much like Tubular Bells. Fresh Aire I also established a label: American Gramophone, like Tubular Bells did with Virgin Music. But in this story there are no Sir Richard Branson, so no commercial empire was built on this – at least not outside the music business.
Later on Fresh Aire I we get to hear some truly great songs; Sonata, Sara’s Band and Pass the Keg. It is a wonderful combination of jazzy folk music with a hint of 1960s Peace & Love. The title song is a bit different. Its gentle beauty and careful build-up is an example of the genre in 10 years time would experience a brief but powerful golden age. It is a genuine New Age music song. The ending track, Mist, has the same qualities.
As a debut album Fresh Aire I is a great accomplishment. Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller took a musical journey into the unknown and ended up creating a new genre almost by themselves: New Age music. They show both great artistery and an ability to create something totally unique. The same cannot be said about the myriads of albums inspired by Mannheim Steamroller and the other New Age music pioneers of this time. This is the original.
Score: 100/100 – See how I rate music here
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