While thoughts of Christmas don't enter many a consumer's mind until Black Friday comes, musicians turn their eyes toward the last page of the calendar a bit earlier. Artists and labels need to conceive of, put together, record, release and market their holiday-themed albums early, so they can make their way into eager listener's stockings before Santa comes for his annual, late December visit.
The changing winds of taste may make the music business fairly unpredictable, but the presence and purchase of new Christmas albums is basically a sure thing; it's almost as much of a certainty as death and taxes. Every year, a new spate of holiday albums flood the stores (and on-line download sites), and this year is no different. Here's a look at a few notable releases that may end up under the Christmas trees in 2012.
Washington D.C.-based crooner Jason Paul Curtis came to a realization, during a series of holiday shows in 2011, that the same old Christmas songs wouldn't cut it if he wanted to keep things interesting for his listeners. Curtis found balance by mixing in some season-appropriate standards and, as soon as the holiday season had departed, he started writing some new holiday songs to use in 2012 and beyond.
Curtis visits all three musical arenas on Lovers Holiday. He tackles holiday classics like "The Christmas Waltz" and Vince Guaraldi
's Charlie Brown-associated "Christmas Time Is Here," season-appropriate standards, like "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" and "Let It Snow," and originals tailor-made for the occasion. The best of the bunch prove to be "Winter Wind" and the title track, which has a Michael Buble
-esque charm to it. While the arrangements, whether delivered by small group (Swinglab) or big band (Swing Machine), occasionally have a generic ring to them, they're all classy and well built. This is charming stuff to be inhaled while sitting next to the fireplace, with a drink in hand.
It's been a good year for Halie Loren. The Oregon-based vocalist kicked off 2012 by releasing the stunning Heart First (Justin Time, 2012) and her new label followed that up by opening the reissue floodgates. First came Stages (Justin Time, 2012), a live album that Loren had originally released in 2010, and now, Many Times, Many Ways: A Holiday Collection (Justin Time, 2012) comes out of the pipeline.
This uncomplicated duo stroll through Christmas classics was originally released in 2008 but, as with Loren's other albums, didn't have much reach. Now, a larger segment of the jazz listening public can be made privy to her vocal charms. Loren hunkers down besides her frequent musical partner, pianist Matt Treder
, and delivers a set of time-tested holiday numbers to warm the soul and charm the ears. Staples like "The Christmas Song," "Winter Wonderland," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and the like are for the populists, but "Blue Holiday," with its slightly smoky delivery, and "Grown Up Christmas List," with its emotional rendering, are the real high points here.
The Justin Time imprint chose to shine a light on one of its singular artists with the aforementioned Halie Loren release, but the full depth and breadth of the roster is felt on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Artists now or formerly associated with the label, including dearly departed piano icon Hank Jones
, and the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, all take a crack at Holiday-themed fare on this compilation. Some of the material has been taken from other recordings, while certain songs are presented here for the very first time.
Kole bookends the album with two previously unreleased recordings"Let It Snow" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"and there's lots to love in between. Krall delivers a snazzy "Jingle Bells," The Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir brings Christmas to the tropics on their "Christmas Calypso Medley," Hank Jones works gentility and grace into the mix with "The Christmas Song," and Coral Egan
-penned Christmas song which will benefit the ASPCA, with all proceeds going to this organization.
Cliff Goldmacher's lyrics find both of these crème de la crème vocalists singing the virtues of the holiday season on their respective coasts. Monheit delights in describing a snowy Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and a cozy fireplace, while Gazarek sings of hills painted gold, "sunset on the beach" and the frost on a martini being the only evidence of cold in the wintry West. They eventually reach a happy middle ground, as they look up at the same stars from their individual abodes and discuss meeting in the middle in their dreams.
The song cleverly positions itself as a story of two women competing for something at the start, like a man's attention, but then reveals itself as a plea between two friends, each hoping to convince the other one to come join them for the holidays. Gazarek and Monheit are both at the top of their game here and Goldings' predilection for walking the pop-jazz line has never been more apparent or productive. This one's a home run and, while it's only available as a digital download, it will likely draw a large audience from both artists' fan bases and beyond.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Our Time Of Year; Let It Snow; Christmas Time Is Here; Good This Year; Blue Friday; Lovers Holiday; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; In The Still Of The Night; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; You're Something; Winter Wind; The Christmas Waltz.
Personnel: Jason Paul Curtis: vocals; Ray Mabalot: piano; John Dahlman: bass; Woody Hume: drums; Ricky Parrell: saxophone; Pete BarenBregge: saxophone; Andrew Snapp: saxophone; Dave Schiff: saxophone; Fred Koch: saxophone; Chris Walker: trumpet; Paul Murtha: trumpet; Mike Barber: trumpet; Geoff Peterson: trumpet; Laura Peterson: trumpet; Doug Elliott: trombone; Rick Lillard: trombone; Jerry O'Sullivan: trombone; Jeff Bonk: trombone; Wade Beach: piano; Dallas Smith: bass; Charlie Thomas: guitar; Jeff Johnson: drums.
Many Times, Many Ways: A Holiday Collection
Tracks: The Christmas Song; Winter Wonderland; Blue Holiday; Sugar Cookies; Let It Snow; Grown Up Christmas List; Home For The Holidays; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Santa Baby; From The Mouths Of Babes; Nature Boy.
Personnel: Halie Loren: vocals; Matt Treder: piano.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Tracks: Let It Snow; It Came Upon A Midnight Clear; Christmas Calypso Medley; Little Drummer Boy; Jingle Bells; The Christmas Song; A Christmas Day; Minuit Chretien/O Holy Night; Mon Beau Sapin; You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch; The Christmas Medley; The Christmas Song; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.