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Fresh Aire is an eight album series by Mannheim Steamroller, containing all sorts of neo-classical/new age stylings. Most importantly, the new age stylings do not resemble the work of Jim Brickman. No, Chip Davis is a character all his own. The Fresh Aire numbered series is entirely original, and the primary material of all the albums that bear its name. The frequently campy Fresh Aire Christmas material and the downright wretched Disney collection will not be considered.

Each album focuses on a theme; the first four are the seasons of the year, while the second four move onto more abstract themes.

Fresh Aire I
  • Prelude
  • Chocolate Fudge
  • Interlude I
  • Sonata
  • Interlude II
  • Saras Band
  • Fresh Aire
  • Rondo
  • Interlude III
  • Pass the Keg (Lia)
  • Interlude IV
  • Mist

Fresh Aire I is the spring; some of its themes are mournful, some energetic. You can clearly hear the progression from the crackling leaves of March, to the joyful sunshine of April, to the maudlin mist of early May. Notice also some of the pieces have the names of their musical styles embedded: Saras Band, Sarabande, Pass The Keg (Lia), Passacaglia. Lots of harpsichord and lots of Moog synthesizer.

Fresh Aire II
  • Chorale
  • The First Door
  • The Second Door
  • The Third Door
  • The Fourth Door
  • The Fifth Door
  • The Sixth Door
  • Door Seven
  • Fantasy
  • Interlude V
  • Velvet Tear
  • A Shade Tree
  • Toota Lute
  • Going to Another Place

Fresh Aire II continues the theme with the summer season. Full of recorders and drumbeats, this album brings to mind a more "at-attention" recollection of summer. It's hard to determine exactly where one song ends and the next begins from listening to this; many sound very similar, but there is definitely an overall positive impression left.

Fresh Aire III
  • Toccata
  • Small Wooden Bach'ses
  • Amber
  • Mere Image
  • Morning
  • Interlude 6
  • The Cricket
  • The Sky
  • Midnight on a Full Moon

This album represents fall, with the last half of the album a suite called "The Woods Are Alive", in which we feel the whole progression of a day from morning until night. "Mere Image" chronicles the life of a person from birth until death. "Toccata" is set in the quirky time signature of 10/8 with a minimalist synthesizer riff. Some of these pieces have a dated, 1970s feel to them, but they are all worth listening to.

Fresh Aire IV

Finally, the winter album. This starts out with the fast-paced "G Major Toccata" for organ; then it slows down to crystalline images of swirling snow for the next two tracks, followed by the inimitable "Four Rows of Jacks". This piece is primarily for harpsichord and is fantastic. The rest of the album is quieter and more subdued, and on the whole less notable. The last piece is a piano and voice remix of "Saras Band" from Fresh Aire I, and the symmetry is gorgeous.

Most people are more familiar with the first four albums, which make a set on their own, and Fresh Aire V and Fresh Aire VI are generally panned by critics, even critics that love this music. A brief discussion on the themes of the other four albums, however.

Fresh Aire V is about a trip to space. A little disjointed, it starts out with sweeping orchestral strings that somehow turn into a bouncing discotheque. It's hard to discern whether this particular trip to space was very successful.

Fresh Aire VI is themes of the sea and other landscapes, attempting to tell the stories of Greek myths. Every time one tries to listen to it, an assumption is made -- well, the others are wonderful, so this one can't be as bad as I remember it. Unfortunately, one is wrong, and when the synthesized crickets cut in, off it goes.

Fresh Aire 7 (yes, the arabic numeral is intentional) discusses themes of the number 7. The seven colors of the rainbow, the seven colors of alchemy, the seven chakras, and a four second track called The 7 Cs in which all seven Cs on a piano are played.

Fresh Aire 8 discusses themes of infinity, the gag being that 8 sideways is the infinity symbol. Some of these songs are beautiful, and others are not quite as good. "Fractals", for instance, is clever in that it expresses rhythmic patterns that are smaller parts of bigger rhythmic patterns, but this is hard to accomplish well. This particular release also made it to DVD, with music videos accompanying each song.

If you are not familiar with Mannheim Steamroller or the Fresh Aire series, you may want to pick up one of the albums and give it a try. There are roots of techno music and classical music to be found, as well as many other styles. It was this peculiar mixture of styles which led Chip Davis to start his own company, American Gramaphone, which is still going strong. You may have been led to believe that Fresh Aire is only for bored housewives with no grip on real music, but you would only believe that if you watched too much QVC.

Also excellent but unrelated, Fresh Air is an NPR program which features interviews conducted by Terry Gross.

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