Music roundup for Dec. 12-18, 2013

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, Coronado Performing Arts Center, 314 N. Main St., Rockford, Ill. Tickets: $47-$67. Call 815-968-5222.

Mannheim Steamroller has created an American holiday tradition for its legion of fans. It has released 11 Christmas albums since 1984—in addition to dozens of albums unrelated to the holiday—and annually performs its light-jazz version of favorite yuletide songs.

The nine-member group was founded in 1974 by Chip Davis and Jackson Berkey. The group initially recorded music that borrowed from baroque classical music, light jazz and Davis’ playful sense of humor, along with Berkey’s virtuosic keyboard work. In the 1990s, Davis moved into the mainstream of “progressive rock” music with a heavier reliance on synthesized instruments and less humor.

Beginning in 1984, Steamroller found its greatest fame when Davis released his first holiday album, “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” featuring modern interpretations of holiday classics. He and the group capitalized on that formula with a similar recording every few years. The albums showcased creative approaches to old carols, as well as some new carol-like compositions.

The album “Christmas Song” was released in late 2007 and featured guest vocals by Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John. The group released the studio album “Christmasville” in 2008. Its newest release is a 25th anniversary Christmas box set consisting of previously released material.

Although Mannheim Steamroller has taken some hits from music critics for its campy approach to its music, but it is hard to ignore the group’s long-term success, which includes 28 million albums sold in the U.S.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, BMO Harris Bradley Center, 1001 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $30-$68.50. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

Like Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is another larger-than-life act, but TSO incorporates even more performers and special effects in its dazzling shows.

TSO’s music includes elements of classical, orchestral, symphonic and progressive rock—and even hard rock and heavy metal. TSO has released a series of rock operas, including a Christmas trilogy: “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” “The Christmas Attic” and “The Lost Christmas Eve.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra began in 1993 and is led by a creative team—Paul O’Neil, Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli—but its shows include a cast of dozens. To accompany the hard-edged music, the group uses fog machines, lasers and multicolored lights as part of the stage show.

TSO first toured in 1999, performing concerts in New York City, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit. The next year, two touring groups were formed, allowing the band to cover more ground in the short time frame O’Neill allows the holiday rock operas to be performed: November and December. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has maintained the dual band format for touring during those months ever since. It performs as a single band during the rest of the year.

The concept behind TSO is that performers become characters in a story told through music. The group did not invent the concept of the rock opera, but it has been one of the most successful at maintaining and capitalizing on the original vision.

Both Billboard Magazine and Pollstar have ranked TSO as one of the Top 10 ticket-selling bands in the first decade of the new millennium.

George Winston at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, Vogel Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $35. Call 414-273-7206 or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

George Winston invented a style of music he calls “folk piano,” a term he coined in 1971.

Growing up in Montana, Winston listened to the radio avidly and was influenced by the contemporary sounds he heard in the late 1950s and ’60s. He began playing organ after hearing The Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarec, in 1967.

He switched to solo piano in 1971 and played three styles of piano music: uptempo stride, New Orleans R&B and his quiet, introspective style of rural folk piano.

Winston also was inspired by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, composer for the Charlie Brown and Peanuts animated films. He recorded two tribute albums to Guaraldi.

When he performs at the Milwaukee’s Marcus Center, Winston likely will play selections from his album “December,” originally recorded in 1982 and re-released in 2002. The collection includes songs with holiday themes.

He typically performs in a flannel shirt, jeans and socks—attire that is symbolic of his earnest and simple approach to music. He also plays guitar, harmonic and slack key guitar.

Lamplighter:  Peter Mulvey, Paul Cebar, David Goodrich and Robin Pluer at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, Cafe Carpe, 18 S. Water St., Fort Atkinson. Tickets: $20. Call 920-563-9391.

Peter Mulvey organizes concert series each December known as “Lamplighter.” Each year, he invites a few friends to join him for an in-the-round performance as he plays eight shows over the course of two weeks.

Joining Mulvey on Sunday, Dec. 15, will be Milwaukee-based musicians Paul Cebar and Robin Pluer, with Boston guitarist/producer David Goodrich accompanying the trio.

Mulvey is a nationally known singer-songwriter whose music includes elements of folk, rock and jazz. He began performing in the early 1990s and has released some 16 albums. He is best known for his warmly wry songwriting and his intense, percussive guitar style.

Cebar began playing Milwaukee’s coffeehouse circuit in the mid-1970s. He joined the R&B Cadets in the 1980s and led his band, The Milwaukeeans, for more than a decade after the Cadets called it quits. Although his current band is Tomorrow Sound, Cebar will be solo on acoustic guitar at the Carpe.

Pluer is a jazz chanteuse who was also once a member of the R&B Cadets. She has been performing since the 1970s and is known for a distinctive style that embraces French jazz traditions from the 1920s-’40s.

Goodrich is a guitar virtuoso of many styles and is known for his restrained, intricate playing.

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