Lorie Line & her Pop Chamber Orchestra,
Sharing the Season, Vol. 4: The Big Band
(Time Line, 2002)

If you own the three previous Lorie Line Sharing the Season albums, you'll be able to hear a difference right away when you pop in this one. It's the most orchestrated disc in the series released to date by the talented Minneapolis pianist. Here the arrangements involve the entire group of musicians and don't as frequently highlight individuals, at least not for very long. And with more brass instruments than ever before, the music really does have a big band feel.

The toe-tapping begins with "Winter Wonderland" and continues with "Joy to the World." While a version of the latter also appeared on Volume 2, this one uses another approach altogether and features rich and multi-dimensional instrumentation. Then, as the song progresses, Bruce Kurnow's bright harmonica briefly segues the group into the popular Three Dog Night tune by the same name. The transition makes perfect sense.

"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" has a bluesy feel that could be classified as either Motown or down-home country. It's difficult to nail down. "Sleigh Ride" begins very much as it is traditionally performed by bands or orchestras, complete with whip lashes, clip-clops and a trumpeting neigh. But there has to be a Lorie Line twist to the music. An intricate and slightly sinister change puts the melody into a minor key. That's eventually offset by a merrier one that features harmonica, mandolin and alto sax, before everyone joins in again. What an interesting approach to a holiday classic!

The pace slows down considerably for "Toyland." The tone of an accordion heard in the background almost puts the cluster of musicians on a street in Italy. The full band sound returns for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," a shuffle that includes a raucous alto sax solo. A saxophone leads again for the first verse of "Blue Christmas." With other verses taken on by the guitar, violin and piano, this version is fairly true to the Elvis single. Cheer bursts back onto the scene with "Holly Jolly Christmas," which features fresh, close harmonies and has a music box or carousel quality to it.

The unusual addition of the Johann Strauss classic, "The Blue Danube," evokes images of skaters gliding effortlessly on the ice or practicing arabesques on a community pond. Or perhaps it's Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer twirling around an Austrian ballroom. The waltz is a nice non-holiday song that takes on a seasonal flavor here.

"Feliz Navidad" obviously has to have a Latin flair. But here, Line and her friends choose to make the beat quite stilted. This is the only arrangement that just doesn't work for me; it sounds too forced. I find this fact disturbing, because these are, after all, accomplished musicians. It's disappointing enough that, if I'm close to the controls, I skip over this song.

But as if to make up for the previous low point, "The Christmas Waltz" will put a smile back on your face. You might not recognize the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne tune by the title alone; but when the familiar music starts, you'll say, "Oh yes, I remember this one." With a piano foundation that builds to the full orchestra, the song sounds as if it should be on the soundtrack of a movie musical. It's too bad more holiday CDs don't include this more modern melody.

Our toes resume their tapping with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Now here's a real big band sound. Several flourishes from big band classics are woven into the background instrumentation. If you're paying attention, you'll hear snippets of "American Bandstand," "In the Mood," and a little Benny Goodman and "Sing Sing Sing." Sheer fun.

Back on Sharing the Season: Volume 2, "O Come All Ye Faithful" was performed as a harmonica solo. This time, the familiar strain is disguised until a saxophone launches into the verse. The electric guitar takes over for a second verse, and by the time the sax comes back for the third, the music has truly become something majestic. In contrast, the next song in the lineup is "Jingle Bells." This version is playful in ways you can't even imagine, with instrumentation you can't possibly prepare for. Suddenly we're all barreling down the Christmas train tracks at a mile a minute. Another smile producer.

Sharing the Season: Volume 2 also introduced vocalist Robert Robinson to Lorie Line fans. Back then, he merely ooooed the melody of "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Here he appears in full baritone voice for "Let There be Peace on Earth." His rich tones and the sudden introduction of a vocal rising above the orchestra, make this track vastly different from the rest of the album and the rest of the series. But his performance is consumed with such emotion -- "the reason for the season," as the saying goes -- that this song is guaranteed to produce a bit of eye moisture. The album closer is the solemn "Crown Him with Many Crowns." Traditionally heard at Easter, the song is certainly appropriate here as well.

Each of the four Sharing the Season volumes has something to offer and can stand alone on its own musical merit. Own all four, and you'll see be able to trace how Lorie Line progresses as a pianist, a performer, an arranger and an orchestra leader.

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review by
Corinne H. Smith

20 December 2008

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