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A NEW AGE NOEL

The phone rings a couple of times before David Lanz picks it up. He was just outside with a cup of coffee, he says, sitting on the veranda, watching the Pacific waves roll in.

One would expect nothing less.Over the past few years Lanz has slowly worked his way to the forefront of new breed, "new age" contemporary instrumentalists. And he's done it with all the traditional virtues: dedication, hard work. People take to his music for the same reason they take to hymns - for the emotional lift and sense of peace. And unlike a good many new age composers, Lanz stands out as an original. His piano arrangements and compositions are recognizable after a couple of bars. His voice is his own. And on Dec. 9 he will be at Abravanel Hall for an 8 p.m. concert. Tickets are available through ArtTix.

"The whole thing feels rather phenomenal," Lanz says of his rise to the top. "I was just in Utah making a documentary film. And we're doing 20 cities on this Christmas tour."

For his Utah visit, Lanz will be showcasing his Christmas album, "Christmas Eve." The album, based on the notion that each Christmas carol has a guardian angel, is classic Lanz. Many of his albums are concept pieces, with fantastic or futuristic stories wound into the melodies. On the Christmas album the pianist turns almost every carol into a manger song, filling it with that disembodied sense he brings to most of his work. The album is a solo show - as is the concert.

"I'll be on stage alone for the concert," he says. "Just a lonely guy and his piano. I guess I don't like sharing the spotlight. As for the album, I've wanted to do a Christmas album in my own style for a long time. For the concert I'm trying to balance the holiday music with the music that people come to hear."

That music includes "Cris-to-fo-ri's Dream," a musical tribute to the inventor of the piano. The album was No. 1 on the adult alternative charts for 27 weeks. His version of "Whiter Shade of Pale" pleased Matthew Fisher of Procol Harem so much that the Lanz version now shows up in Pro-col Harem shows. And the Lanz concerts for both houses of Parliament in England were a smash.

Last year Lanz brought bassist Paul Speer to town with him and the two of them packed Abravanel Hall with fans. They did cuts from their joint "Bridge of Dreams" release. Now the pianist is back, flying alone.

When asked about his popularity as a performer and composer, Lanz does what Lanz does best: He turns reflective.

"I have great respect for the masters," he says, "but I don't listen to much of anyone these days. I've found it's important for me now to go inside and see what I have to say.

"Composing is like fishing. If you love the process, it doesn't matter if you catch anything or not." Then, switching metaphors as quickly as he switches keys, he says: "What you have to do is open a door inside and let the music in. Maybe a song will begin with a chord sequence, or a melodic idea. After that, I know I have the important part. Then it's just a matter of craft."

That sense of actually "entering" the music is what listeners like about the Lanz sound. If you don't like the floating, easy-listening new age style, there's probably not much that could make you like the work of Lanz. But for those who see it as soul music for gentle souls, David Lanz is the leader of the band. Even when he flies solo.