All Is Calm All Is Bright
is a collection of thirteen familiar and not-so-familiar Christmas carols arranged for solo piano and performed by Jeremy Yowell. “For this project, I have purposefully chosen to arrange with a meditative, reflective quality. Amidst the busyness of the season, it seems like we need a reprieve.... this collection will hopefully offer some much-needed solitude and inner renewal.” (quoted from the CD liner notes) This is Yowell’s third album, and as the pastor of a small church in Illinois, it is not surprising that this collection focuses on the traditional sacred songs of the holidays. A masterful and very expressive pianist, Yowell imbues each of these songs with warmth and a clear message of love. Yowell recorded the album at Joe Bongiorno’s Piano Haven Studio on Joe’s wonderful Shigeru Kawai grand, so the piano sound is smooth, clear and beautiful.
All Is Calm All Is Bright
begins with a wonderful arrangement of “Silent Night, Holy Night” that is played somewhat slower and more thoughtfully than we usually hear it, focusing on the message of peace and hope within the melody. “The Coventry Carol” refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which King Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed children. One of the darker Christmas carols, Yowell’s arrangement is both hauntingly beautiful and mournfully sad. “The Holly and the Ivy” is almost unrecognizable, so I’m not sure if it’s a very different arrangement or an alternate melody. Either way, it overflows with emotion - a favorite. “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” is an exceptional duet with Melissa Yowell, Jeremy’s wife. I wasn’t familiar with “Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow,” but it is an African-American spiritual first published in Slave Songs of the United States in 1867. Yowell’s arrangement is sweet and gentle. On the more unusual side, Yowell created a medley of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and Debussy’s “Reverie.” I’ve heard some interesting combinations of pieces, but this stands out as a favorite - the two pieces fit together seamlessly. The album closes with a heartfelt and very effective arrangement of “O Holy Night.” Yowell takes the less commanding approach that has become popular the past decade or so, relying on the beauty of the melody to convey the message rather than drama - a peaceful and poignant end to an excellent album.
There are some exceptionally good new solo piano Christmas albums this year, and this one is definitely in that category! It is available from jeremyyowell.com
, Amazon, and CD Baby. Recommended!