2023 / Round Sky Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Paul Avgerinos' Shanti Noel is by far the most ambient Christmas album I've ever heard. It is also one of the most relaxing. Quoting Paul Avgerinos: "During eight months of work, I tried my best to offer fresh takes on holiday favorites with a few originals as well. It’s all designed to keep the season joyful, peaceful, and serene." I would say that he has succeeded very well! The album features fourteen songs and runs a very generous hour and twenty-one minutes, keeping a consistently smooth and atmospheric "vibe" throughout. Many of the tracks feature voices (without lyrics), some are mostly electronic, some include instruments from the Middle East, and some are a mix. It's a fascinating collection from this multi-Grammy award winning artist. In addition to Avgerinos, the album also features Kevin Braheny Fortune on EWI, alto flute and alto clarinet; Juliet Lyons, Emma Kiara, Monika Ryan and Carrie Grossman on vocals; and Peter Sterling on harp - definitely a winning combination!
One of the things that is interesting about this album is that the carols are very recognizable on the first four or five tracks, but they become more ambient as the album progresses and I needed to look at the title listing a couple of times to see what song was playing - especially the four longer tracks that run from seven to almost eleven minutes. Some of the tracks slide easily into the background and some will have you humming along. The diversity in the instrumentation keeps the album fresh and consistently interesting, but this is definitely not a traditional sing-along Christmas album!
Shanti Noel begins with a spirited version of "O Holy Night" that features harmonious vocals and a variety of Eastern instruments and hand percussion. I think this is the liveliest arrangement of the song I've heard and I really like it! "Silent Night" is very ethereal and atmospheric with voices as well as light Eastern instruments - beautiful and profound. Very adaptable to a wide variety of musical styles and genres, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is mostly vocals and a strong rhythm - a favorite! "Christmas Caravan" is an exotic arrangement of "The Arabian Dance" from The Nutcracker with vocals, alto flute and alto clarinet, light hand percussion, and a bass rhythm that keeps it moving forward - my favorite track on the album! "Snowfalls"is one of Paul's originals and is so peaceful and delicate, bringing images of falling snow and light gently dancing on its surface - magical! "Angels We Have Heard on High" plays for almost eleven minutes and the melody is in there, but you really have to listen for it - very ambient, indeed! Peter Sterling's harp can be heard on this one. "O Come Emmanuel" has the melody slowed down and played on the alto clarinet with shimmering voices and atmospheric sounds behind it - very peaceful and soothing. I always find the melody for "The Coventry Carol" to be dark and haunting, and Paul's arrangement is a little slower than it's usually heard, making it even more mournful as well as beautiful - another favorite.
So, if you are looking for a Christmas album that is different, peaceful and very beautiful, Shanti Noel could be an excellent choice! It is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and many streaming platforms including Spotify. Check it out!
November 29, 2023
(as Deepak Chopra, Kabir Sehgal, and Paul Avgerinos)