By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia
CEDAR RAPIDS — At least an inch of snow melted around the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, as Jim Brickman and company warmed up the winter’s night. (12/22/12)
For a full two hours, they explored the many moods of Christmas, from jubilant and playful to reverent and romantic, with several of his non-seasonal hits woven throughout.
Not only is Brickman a fine technician as his fingers glide across his gleaming grand piano, his re-imagined rhythms wrap the most familiar carols in new and glittering ornamentation. His syncopations lend an almost jazzy feel to “Angels We Have Heard on High” and he exudes a joy that nearly lifts him off the piano bench.
His other special skill is the way he tucks snippets of carols inside larger arrangements — especially “Carol of the Bells,” which adds an unexpected ring to several of his creations.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him several times in concert at the Paramount, and while he’s always shared the spotlight with guest performers, this time they had almost as much stage time as he did. While they are all fine, accomplished musicians, my friends and I agreed we’d rather hear more of him in the solo spotlight.
Anne Cochran, his friend since their high school days in Cleveland, adds plenty of sparkle to “The Simple Things.” Canadian singer Luke McMaster lends his tenor and song writing collaboration to the bouncy “Good Morning Beautiful” off Brickman’s new “Believe” CD — and its equally bubbly holiday version, “Merry Christmas Beautiful.”
The most exciting guest, however, is the wild electric violin master, Tracy Silverman. He injects so much raw power and lively fresh air into everything he plays, from his original tunes to vibrant remakes of traditional ones. Nothing is staid when his bow touches the six strings of his hybrid violin.
He began a lovely duet with Brickman by plucking a harp-like counterpoint to “What Child is This,” flowing seamlessly into “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “We Three Kings” and “Carol of the Bells,” before returning to “God Rest Ye Merry” — then ripping into a full-out rock guitar riff that tossed in a little “Sleigh Ride,” “Dreidel Song,” “Rudolph,” “Orange Blossom Special” and a little Led Zeppelin before returning to a more classical, gentle feel on “What Child is This.” It was crazy and totally cool.
That primed us for his solo turn, in which he recorded five phrases live by tapping a pedal, layering them one by one until topping them with a sixth and final layer. He says that in essence, he’s cloning himself into his own little symphony for a full and lush “Winter’s Dance.”
While I embrace and applaud all the touches of imagination in the concert, the least successful segment followed Silverman’s brilliance, as McMaster and Cochran joined in a countrified medley of “Silent Night” and “White Christmas.” Thankfully, Brickman calmed it down with “Joy to the World” before all four musicians kicked up the tempo and tambourine to launch into a rollicking gospel take on “Hark the Herald” and “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher.”
Perhaps the sweetest song of the evening was one I’d never heard before: Brickman’s original tune, “Even Santa Fell in Love,” bringing sweet warmth to the North Pole romance between Santa and Mrs. Claus.
That’s what Brickman does best — spreading warmth and romance laced with Christmas cheer. He also laces his show with plenty of conversation. Some of it is heartfelt and lovely, like when he expressed his excitement about being back in our beautifully restored “grand palace.” But a lot of it was cheesy, especially the banter most often initiated by Cochran.
Still, the spirit of the evening was so shiny and bright, that I didn’t really mind the cheese all that much. The rest was pure delight.