If you are going to record a Christmas album, or even an album with the winter season as the theme, and you are going to play mostly identifiable classic melodies from the past 200 years, then you better make these tunes your own. That is exactly what pianist Dan Chadburn has done on his Whispers the Falling Snow album. This is simply instrumental piano music (no singing despite the poetry of the album title). Chadburn is what is sometimes called a compositional improvisationalist, meaning that he when he sits down at the piano, he (and everyone else) has no idea what is going to come out. When he writes his own material (and three tunes here are his), he either has no idea of where he is going, or only the most general vague idea of a starting point, but once he plunges in and starts it flowing, it is almost as if the piece writes itself right there, spur-of-the-moment. Bottom-line, he is a master improviser. Even when he tackles someone else’s compositions, (as he does on seven pieces here), he does what most jazz and some rock artists do, he uses the melody as a jumping off point to bring his own ideas to the theme, taking it this way and that, sometimes returning to the basic melody and other times drifting way, way out there into improv-land, but, and here is the key component, keeping it interesting all the way. Not an easy thing to do.

Here are some details. About half the album are winter-oriented pieces and these, especially his three originals (the title tune, “Returning Home” and “Winter Waltz”), have that sort of timeless quality that allows them to not only be played anytime during the winter, or any time during the year actually, but also will bring you back to them year after year. The other five tunes are what we call classic Christmas carols, or really church hymns since there are no contemporary ones here – “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Silent Night,” “What Child Is This,” “Away in a Manger” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Oh, yes, he takes some liberties, but if you are tackling a hoary old chestnut like “Silent Night,” you better bring something fresh and invigorating to it. In fact, the tune is only 3:44 long and hardly recognizable the first two-minutes, and then right in the middle, he takes 30-seconds and states that famous theme so gently, delicately and lovely that it practically brings tears to your eyes, and then he takes us on his own journey again for the last minute or so. Just a class act all the way.