A Winter Solstice with Helicon
(Dorian, 1999)

A Winter Solstice with Helicon , a recent offering from our friends over at Dorian, is an attempt to capture the magic of Helicon's seasonal gift to Baltimore on disc. Every year since 1986, Helicon has gathered together for a live Yuletide performance, and this is designed to bring that series to a wider audience.

Helicon is Chris Norman on assorted flutes and percussion, Ken Kolodner on hammer dulcimer and fiddle, and Robin Bullock on guitar, cittern and fiddle, with piano duties shared around. As is true of all of their recordings, the musicianship here is excellent, and this tight ensemble gets the usual first-rate engineering job which is a Dorian hallmark. That all being the case, the remaining challenge is to assess the program and interpretation of material.

And what a program it is! Globe-trotting in every respect, the listener is transported variously from a traditional Jewish celebration to Germany, Mexico, France, Ireland, Italy, the Ukraine, Kenya, England, Russia, Denmark, China, and the good ol' U.S. of A. Of the 11 selections (most of which are medleys), my favorites are:

A pair of traditional tunes from South America, "Tincu" and "Pawell," whose marriage is seamless; the spirited fusion of the Jewish "Shalom Chaubrim" to the French tunes "Patapan" and "Ding Dong Merrily on High"; and the Irish meets Russian meets Ukrainian "Dawn Dear Dawn/Carol of the Bells/New Year's Eve/Ukrainian Etude." For me, though, the best of the pieces is the evocatively titled "A Happy Farmer/Spring Morning/A Girl Raises Her Sheep/Dancing and Singing in the Village." As good as the titles are, the songs are even better!!!

Pick this disc up. Come July, put it on and wish for the crisp, hard-edged bite of winter. Helicon will provide the audio transport.

[ by Gilbert Head ]
Rambles: 22 June 2002