Windham Hill Christmas 2
Various Artists
Echoes
December 3, 2003

First I must offer a disclaimer: I was paid to write the liner notes for A Windham Hill Christmas 2. It was not a task I took on lightly, since I'm not a lover of Christmas carols, those tired chestnuts trotted out ad infinitum in torturously tiresome rote renditions. That's one reason I'd always been a fan of Windham Hill's Winter Solstice series which leaves the tried and true carols behind for more evocative fare. We get dozens of Christmas albums sent to Echoes each year and my eyes glaze over just looking at the track listings with the same "In Dulci Jubilo-Joy To the World-Silent Night-God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen" songs.

Those very tunes are the first three tracks on A Windham Hill Christmas 2. Yet, something here is different. A Windham Hill Christmas won me over with their first release last year and this year's edition is even better. Artists like Philip Aaberg, Alex de Grassi and Barbara Higbie find a different spirit in these tired carols, opening up new spaces, exploring the silence between the notes like the calm of freshly fallen snow. There's an air of classical chamber music with a Renaissance tone in many of these renditions, especially from oboist Paul McCandless and pianist Barbara Higbie who also plays harp and fiddle on "Patapan." Guitarists Will Ackerman and David Cullen pair up on a haunting version of "I Wonder As I Wander" that hangs like a glass sculpture suspended in the frozen air. Tracy Silverman and Thea Suits offer a shimmering, modernist spin on "Away in A Manger," while Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning lend a Celtic influence to "The Waits Song."

A Windham Hill Christmas 2 is a seasonal CD you can play when the folks are visiting, and even after they leave.

John Diliberto