Another year, another Christmas album that arrives on the doorstep in January. Too bad, really, as composer/arranger/pianist Nils Lindberg's Christmas Cantata is an immaculately conceived treatise that blends music based on biblical passages with traditional English, French, Welsh and Swedish carols and songs into an iridescent medley that invigorates, inspires and swings in equal measure.
Lindberg's world-class big band is reinforced by soprano Margareta Jalk'us, baritone Olle Persson and the thirty-four-member Gustaf Sj'kvist Chamber Choir in a seres of seasonal sketches that warmly proclaim the Christmas story through the power and charm of music. This is music that transcends boundaries, and one feels an immediate kinship with those who are conveying its timeless message. There is a steady Jazz undercurrent, most readily apparent on the carols, which include "Ding! Dong! Merrily on High," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Deck the Halls" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The score provides space for a passionate baritone saxophone solo by Peter Gullin on "In the Beginning Was the Word," which is doubly moving as this may well have been the last recording date for Peter, the son of one of Sweden's greatest Jazz musicians, Lars Gullin. Peter Gullin, who was forty-four, died of cancer last year. Other soloists aren't listed but they certainly include Lindberg, trumpeter Peter Asplund and trombonist Bertil Strandberg, and probably saxophonists H'kan Brostr'm, Joakim Milder, Anders Paulsson and Hans 'kesson.
The cantata was taped in concert for an audience whose absolute silence gives way to enthusiastic applause only at the end of the final movement. As an encore, Lindberg presents three Swedish folk songs with spiritual themes arranged for the choir. The Christmas Cantata is another tour de force by Lindberg, complementing his sublime Requiem, which had its premiere in 1993, and confirming his mastery at weaving religious and secular concepts into a persuasive and picturesque tapestry. Too late, alas, for this year's celebration, but clearly something to keep in mind for Christmas '04.
Track Listing: Introduction; The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise; Ding dong! Merrily on high; And it came to pass in those days; Sussex carol; And there were in the same country; Gl?d dig du Kristi brud (Sing o sing this blessed morn); But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart; God rest ye merry, gentlemen; Now when Jesus was born; Deck the halls; In the beginning was the Word; A merry Christmas. Three Swedish folk songs ? Visa p? v?g; Kom min v?n; Den signade dag (50:14).
Personnel: Margareta Jalk?us, soprano; Olle Persson, baritone; the Gustaf Sj?kvist Chamber Choir, Gustaf Sj?kvist, conductor, with the Nils Lindberg Big Band ? Peter Asplund, Jan Allan, Hans Dyvik, Fredrik Nor?n, trumpet; H?kan Brostr?m, Hans ?kesson, alto, soprano sax; Joakim Milder, Anders Paulsson, tenor, soprano sax; Peter Gullin, baritone sax; Karin Hammar, Bertil Strandberg, Magnus Svedberg, Anders Wiborg, trombone; Alberto Pinton, flute; H?kan Nyquist, French horn; Nils Lindberg, piano; Pelle Jacobsson, vibes; Jan Adefeldt, bass; Bengt Stark, drums; Kari Thorsson, percussion.