A usual critique of Christmas music is that it is dull, uninspired, and doesn’t offer anything new. Well, that is not the case with Michael Kollwitz’s “Santa Plays the Stick”, which is being released today. It is the most creative, playful, and joyous Christmas album that I have heard in years. Kollwitz’s selection of Christmas carols and original songs is enough to convince me; If Santa plays an instrument, it must be the Chapman Stick!
Michael Kollwitz has played The Chapman Stick for over forty years. He has recorded in such diverse genres as Jazz, Classic Rock, Latin, Hawaiian, Americana, and even Christmas music. Michael’s 21st album, “Serenity- Peaceful Music on The Chapman Stick” (2017) marked a change in course for his music. His goal was to create a sonically healing experience to evoke soothing simplicity and peaceful relaxation for his listeners. “Serenity II” (2018) made it to the Billboard Top Ten New Age chart, and “Serenity III” (2019) won a Silver Medal in the Global Music Awards in June of this year.
This Mixcloud episode is dedicated to Michael Kollwitz and Santa Plays the Stick. It contains the songs “Away In A Manger”, “Snow Ride” and “Pile Of Presents”
Away in A Manger
From the first few notes, it is clear that this album is something special. It is far from the first Chapman Stick Christmas album. The magic is in the way Kollwitz plays, is just like the “Serenity” series. There’ a love and enthusiasm for this expression that you’ll notice right away. It gives the carols a particular touch of authenticity. It is not “just another Christmas album”.
The album opener is “Away in A Manger”. It is indeed one of the most beautiful carols of all, and Kollwitz’s version shines. His many twists and turns give the song a playful and welcoming atmosphere. In other words; A perfect Christmas vibe! Next out is an original; “Pile of Presents”, which was released as a single last year. Young or old, nothing beats a stack of nicely wrapped gifts – and the song captures this aspect of Christmas beautifully.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
I very much like how Kollwitz plays the carols. You can sense his seriousness; He treats them with the respect and love they deserve. It is less Santa and more about the true meaning of Christmas. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” is a lovely rendition of Edmund Sears’ traditional carol. You can sense its joyous message. I also like Kollwitz’s gentle take on “The First Noel”. It is lovely and inspired.
The following part of “Santa Plays The Stick” is brimming with playfulness and a deep sense of love for Christmas. “I Saw Three Ships”, “Deck The Halls“, “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Twelve Days Of Christmas” will for sure bring a smile to your face. Even though we are used to hear these songs played by a full orchestra, Kollwitz’s Chapman Stick does the trick 100%. It is both a statement of the instrument itself and the artist’s impressive abilities.
Now it is time for an original. Kollwitz’s “Snow Ride“ is a speedy and fun piece. It is as if we can feel the frostbite on our faces, going on a hazardous sleight ride in deep snow. I’m sure Kollwitz could do a Christmas album with nothing but originals. The quality of the for originals is very high. Listen to “Snow Ride” and I’m sure you will agree with me.
The mandatory “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is a welcome gift, before we celebrate a “December Wedding”. It is romantic and danceable in a classical sense. John Henry Hopkins’ elegant “We Three Kings” feels like a perfect fit at this stage.
Joy To The World
Kollwitz has saved some of the best presents for last. His version of “Joy To The World” is triumphant. The Chapman Stick sounds divine, almost like a harp. And the joy doesn’t end there; the original “Basket Full Of Joy” continues the celebratory atmosphere. I don’t know if you will agree with me, but if I could choose between a Christmas present or a basket, I would choose the basket. Kollwitz basket.
“Silent Night” is the perfect album closer. If you are like me, you will find yourself looking for the replay button at this stage.
In conclusion: Michael Kollwitz’s “Santa Plays the Stick” is an outstanding Christmas release. It is a genuine and heartwarming album with a vibrant sound, thanks to the Chapman Stick and Kollwitz’s inspired playing. If you think Christmas albums are boring, think again. The combination of traditional carols and original songs make this into something truly unique. Kollwitz has managed something very difficult; to make an album that is both playful and serious same time. It makes me into a believer; Yes, of course Santa plays the stick! Why wouldn’t he?
Score: 96/100 – See our scoring policy
The album is available on Bandcamp. More more information and music samples, visit michaelkollwitz.com