CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Imagine a bare stage, a few sashes of white cloth, a few 3D stars a la Japanese lantern, and a full rainbow of lighting effects. Add a grand piano, an alto, a 6-string violin, and a football player. Enter fearless leader and showman Jim Brickman and from there it is easy to shut out the rest of the world and get back to the basics of the positive message of Christmas.I have heard about those who check Brickman's website to find out when he's passing through, so I thought I would sign up for this holiday offering at the Clay Center. It was an evening well spent with guest singers and Anne Cochran (a Brickman regular) and former NFL athlete Ben Utecht.Brickman has a relaxed manner with the audience, whether playing his arrangements or setting up the next song. I could usually tell when he was wrapping up a medley by his turn to the audience with an almost Santa-like wink and a nod that suggested, "I hope you are having as much fun listening as I am having playing for you tonight." From the stage, Brickman described his New Age style as music "for making out, making babies, soothing babies, hanging out, [and] drinking wine, whatever brings you escape and beauty."The piano arrangements were simple, rich, playful and beautiful. The Christmas hymns and popular songs flowed together and were layered and yet each was featured and discernable. Only when Cochran and Utecht created a battle between "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland" did the gloves come off. Several tunes, including the title track from Brickman's latest CD, "Romanza," like "La Luna," are worth a second listen and are available at Target (in case you missed the concert).
An added bonus was Tracy Silverman on electric violin with enough strings (two more than I usually deal with) to be a one-man string section. He, in fact, took the audience on a "Christmas Excursion" through many carols and varied styles with a little help from several pedals. A drum set is never necessary when a member of the Turtle Island String Quartet is on hand to "chop" the beat.The audience was even asked to sing and play along, improvising with their car keys -- usually a weighty object representing the outside world -- which sounded like a sea of sleigh bells. There is no doubt that while hands were shaken at the meet and greet following the concert, the piano, the microphone and even a Super Bowl ring were put in boxes, loaded on the truck and will be on their way to Rochester, N.Y., where they will magically appear on stage on Wednesday night.Quite different from the rocking concert of B.E. Taylor just down the street on the same night, and quite different from Bob Thompson's Joy to the World last week, this concert was a genre all its own. I would mark my calendar and tell a few of my more harried friends now, if I knew if Brickman is on the schedule for next year.