Before "new age" music, we had "Fresh Aire." And it was. Fresh, that is - a spritely, whimsical and occasionally pompous blend of pop and classical influences born in the mid-1970s. With "7," composer Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller (is there really a group Mannheim Steamroller anymore?) prove that the now-venerable formula still works . . . but there's more pomposity and less humor than in the auld days.
Which means "Fresh Aire 7" - a mystical-musical meditation upon the number seven - is ingratiatingly pleasant, yet somewhat disappointing at the same time. What happened is that Davis and company broke the barriers, discovered a niche, and all manner of eager instrumental musicians followed them through the breach. Now we have so many exotic sounds to choose from, "7" doesn't seem that, well, fresh. Aurally intriguing sometimes, but not startlingly cutting edge.Davis tries awfully hard, though, giving us a taste of the baroque here, a sample of Indian mysticism there, mixing percussion and synthesizers, an orchestra and wildlife sound effects in selections like "Conjuring the Number 7," "The 7 Colours of the Rainbow" and, most epically, "The 7 Chakras of the Body." The latter includes spine-tingling choruses, with members of John Rutter's Cambridge Singers sing-chanting, in Old English, a Chaucer ballad.
Often, however, the themes recall, variously, "Fresh Aire I," "II," "III" or "IV" or the choral majesties of "V" and "VI." In a way, the music of "Fresh Aire 7" is almost . . . traditional - if only because Chip Davis, keyboardist Jackson Berkey et al. have been around long enough to have created a remarkable tradition of their own.