Thanks to The Winchester Star

0 Posted by - December 9, 2017 - Featured, Upcoming Jazz

The Winchester Star

— Pianist Caleb Nei was asked to contribute one song to a Christmas album featuring various artists and produced by Sono Luminus, a recording studio and record label in Boyce, where Nei works as a graphic designer.

After recording “Christmas Time is Here” for the collaborative CD titled “Sono Luminus Presents Imagine Christmas,” Nei decided to keep going and record enough tunes for his first solo CD, simply titled “Christmas.”

The simple title reflects the simple beauty of “Christmas.” It is an exquisite recording of familiar songs — a mix of traditional hymns and popular standards — with jazz influences played on a Steinway grand piano.

“The album is not a technical statement. It’s more a meditation on some of my favorite Christmas tunes,” said Nei ( pronounced Ni). “I attempted to capture an intimacy on my album.”

Nei, 41, lives in Millwood with his wife and three children. He is the pianist for Emmaus Church in Berryville and teaches piano at Shenandoah University and elsewhere in addition to working for Sono Luminus. For many years, he was the pianist at Village Square Restaurant and V2 Bar in downtown Winchester.

“I’m an improvisational player and have spent years playing in the corner of a piano bar,” said Nei. “If you heard all the recordings I made preparing for the album, you’d hear some explorations that maybe went too far one way or another.”

The versions Nei selected for the final CD are strikingly beautiful and pure, from the first notes of the “The First Noel” through the final notes of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

“Much of the album is thoughtful and gentle. That was my intention,” Nei said.

Though he earned a degree in church music at Huntington University in his hometown in Indiana, Nei said he has always been drawn to jazz because it allows for interpretation. “You can play a tune over and over, and create variations. Turn a phrase. Take a different approach.”

Working at Sono Luminus, which specializes in ultra- high fidelity and surround recordings of classical and neo- classical music, Nei meets musicians from around the world.

“Each artist who has come through Sono Luminus has taught me something about making music. I’m grateful for every lesson.

“It’s an extraordinar y opportunity to work where I can also learn and perform,” he said, adding, “Whenever a visiting musician needs a ride to or from the airport, I always volunteer.”

Nei travels as a working musician, too, performing as a soloist or playing with duets, trios or quartets in more than 100 concerts each year.

Now that his first CD is complete, he is keen to record more. “I’d love to release a new Christmas album each year,” he said.

“There’s a lot of speculation about what makes Christmas music so special. Why do we respond so strongly to these tunes that come around every year?”

Nei continued, “The music is part of our collective experience.

For me, it’s about the joy of the season.”
The joy of the season is also conveyed on “Sono Luminus Presents Imagine Christmas.” In addition to Nei’s piano solo, the CD includes performances by individuals and ensembles from across the U. S. and other countries. The songs reflect a range of styles, influences and instrumentation, including vocals.

Sono Luminus is owned by Sandy Lerner of Upperville and managed by CEO Collin Rae, engineer Daniel Shores and producer Dan Merceruio. The studio has been nominated for 18 Grammy awards and has won two Grammys since it was founded in 1995.

As artists arrived at the former church in Boyce over the past two years to record their own music, Sono Luminus producers and engineers asked for their unique takes on songs such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “White Christmas,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and others.

Their interpretations of the music are as unique as the artists themselves.

Caleb Nei will host a “Christmas” album release party from 2 to 4 p. m. Sunday at Cordial Coffee Co., 8 S. Church St. in Berryville.

Nei’s “Christmas” CD and “Sono Luminus Presents Imagine Christmas” are available for purchase in Winchester at the Winchester Book Gallery, Tin Top Art and Hopscotch Coffee & Records.

Both CDs are also available in Berryville at Cordial Coffee Co., Modern Mercantile, Hip and Humble Interiors as well as at Locke Store in Millwood.

Each CD is $ 10. “Christmas” and “Sono Luminus Presents Imagine Christmas” are also available on streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify.

— Contact Cathy Kuehner at

“There’s a lot of speculation about what makes Christmas music so special. Why do we respond so strongly to these tunes that come around every year?”

Pianist Caleb Nei recorded his album “Christmas” at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce.

Photo by Scott Mason for The Winchester Star.
Copyright © 2017 Winchester Star 12/09/2017

Caleb Nei lives in Millwood with his wife and three children. He is the pianist for Emmaus Church.

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