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A Jazzy Christmas with Sinatra, Reeves, and Justin Time

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Various Artists
Justin Time for Christmas Four
Justin Time

Justin Time's label celebration of the holiday season is fairly straight ahead renditions of Christmas music that you can safely put on the stereo when non-jazz company's visiting without fear of offending.

Vocalist Carmen Lundy's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is the party you want to be at for a good time. Johanne Blouin's "Sainte Nuit (Silent Night)", with Vic Vogel on piano, is a bluesy belter rather than the somber version we're most used to.

Two versions of the traditional Christmas medley can be heard on this album: Rob McConnell's Tentet delivers a fairly routine combo of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Jingle Bells" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Quartango gets far more creative in the same three and a half minute span with "Pandora's Christmas Box", that owes as much to chamber music and gypsy folk tunes as it does to jazz.

Bryan Lee does a passable Dr. John immitation with "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", while Beau Kavanagh & the Broken Hearted do a blues bar band rendition of "Santa Claus is Back in Town". Guitarist Adam Karch seems to be channeling acoustic Bruce Springsteen with "Christmas Prayer" while pianist Hank Jones performs an elegant but barely two-minute-long version of "The Christmas Song".

The album, like an assorted box of Christmas candy, has a little something to please everybody.


Frank Sinatra
The Christmas Collection
Reprise

According to the press release accompanying The Christmas Collection, "Sinatra returns to the studio one last time" for the track "Silent Night" on the latest disc of holiday music from the legendary entertainer. It also adds an eerie new meaning to the expresion, "Ol' Blue Eyes is back." Perhaps the holiday we're celebrating here is Easter...or Halloween.

Sinatra's "brand new" vocal track was laid down in 1991, with the Johnny Mandel-arranged orchestra backing recorded by son Frank Jr. this past March. It's a passable track, with Sinatra's voice cracking occasionally, but pretty much on the level of his last recordings, when the band was top-notch, even if Frank was a little weak.

The rest of the album is mostly cobbled together from various Christmas projects from Sinatra's Reprise years in the '60s. If you're a big Sinatra fan, you already have this material in one form or another, either as albums or singles: "We Wish You the Merriest" with Bing Crosby, "The Christmas Waltz" and "The Little Drummer Boy", for example. Tina, Nancy and Frank Jr. also make appearances from a Sinatra family-themed album.

A pleasant addition are three tracks taken from ABC-TV's 1957 special, "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank", which were previously unissued. Frank does "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and then teams up with Bing for "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas". Crosby's voice adds a wonderfully mellow quality that is better suited to the material, something the mature Sinatra didn't always provide.

In any case, it's even money that the avid Sinatra fan on your gift list would be happy to find this in his or her stocking, but hold off for the casual listener.


Dianne Reeves
Christmas Time is Here
Blue Note

Dianne Reeves' new CD certainly is a pleasant surprise: a Christmas album that also is a bona fide jazz album, where the music can hold its own as something more than a seasonal presentation.

Rather than do the usual treatments of holiday favorites, Reeves surrounds herself with interesting musicians and arrangements, resulting in Christmas-y jazz music, rather than jazzy Christmas music.

Her take on "Little Drummer Boy" goes beyond the "rum-tum-tum-tum" beat of the original with the addition of Munyungo Jackson's percussion embellishing the steady bass line of Reuben Rogers and a New Orleans second-line influenced drum performances by Gregory Hutchinson.

"Carol of the Bells" becomes a sleek up-tempo swinger with Reeves reconfiguring the melody to be all but unrecognizeable during the instrumental sections if you hadn't heard Reeves state the theme.

Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson's modern standard "Christmas Time is Here" from Charlie Brown becomes a languid sit-by-the-hearth piece, with pianist Peter Martin, Rogers and Hutchinson providing the relaxed backup.

What makes this album a success is Reeves' ability to present oft-featured material and make it sound surprisingly fresh. A host of guest artists featuring Romero Lubambo on guitar, Steve Wilson on saxophone, Joe Locke on vibes and the Sirius String Quartet adds to the enjoyment, rather than get in the way of the vocal treatments.

Simply put, Reeves' latest effort is a gaily wrapped present to both jazz fans and lovers of holiday music.



Justin Time for Christmas Four

Tracks:

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song, You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The Christmas Medley: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas/Jingle Bells, Sainte Nuit, Pandora's Christmas Box, Santa Claus Is Back In Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Christmas Prayer, Go Tell It on the Mountain
Personnel: Various Artists

The Christmas Collection

Tracks:
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, The Christmas Waltz, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, We Wish You the Merriest, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Christmas Song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I Wouldn't Trade Christmas, Christmas Memories, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Bells of Christmas (Greensleeves), An Old Fashioned Christmas, A Baby Just Like You, Whatever Happened to Christmas, White Christmas, Silent Night
Personnel: Frank Sinatra Vocals, Ron Anthony Guitar, Chuck Berghofer Bass, Julie Berghofer Harp, Larry Bunker Percussion, Timothy Eames Obbligatto Vocals, Jim Hughart Bass, Bill T. Miller Celeste, Al Viola Guitar

Christmas Time is Here

Tracks: Little Drummer Boy, Carol of the Bells, Christmas Time Is Here, This Time of the Year, Christmas Waltz, I'll Be Home for Christmas, Christ Child's Lullaby, A Child Is Born, The Christmas Song, Let It Snow, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Personnel: Dave Eggar Cello, Gregor Hubnor Violin, Gregory Hutchinson Drums, Munyungo Jackson Percussion, Ron Lawrence Viola, Joe Locke Vibraphone, Romero Lubambo Guitar, Peter Martin Piano, Meg Okura Violin, Dianne Reeves Vocals, Reuben Rogers Bass Sirius String Quartet


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