This is a holiday album that achieves nirvanaa state of perfect musical nothingness.
Saxophonist Nelson Rangell's All I Hope For Christmas isn't good enough to excite, bad enough to disappoint, or novel enough to inspire any other emotions. It's a shade above mall music fodder, but even more accomplished moments will sound immediately recognizable to his fansthe only ones likely to purchase this in any quantity.
Rangell is a supremely talented and versatile wind player who, after some stellar early work, has spent his career mired anonymously in the smooth jazz mainstream. This 2004 release mostly sticks to the middle of the road like it's super-glued there, with light arrangements that seldom depart from the predictable and nearly invisible supporting cast.
His best recorded work is generally his peppy flute and piccolo phrasing, and to his credit, he devotes most of this album to such playing. But while he seldom hides in clichés, even his more elaborate passages seem so familiar compared to his past several albums that they've become redundant in their own right. All you really need to do is audition the opening "Let It Snow"if you like the solo work in the middle, you'll find most of the rest of the album to your liking.
The only real drop-off is what feels like the obligatory vocal tune in the form of "The Christmas Song," an instantly forgettable version by Chris Bank. Perhaps the best moment is on "My Favorite Things" (always a daunting prospect, thanks to Coltrane), where Rangell plays some legitimate tenor sax swing that surfaces abruptly in the middle of the songunfortunately, it doesn't last more than a few bars. He also plays soprano sax on one original he co-wrote at the end, "All I've Hoped For," one of his trademark ballads that comes across sweet and much less sticky than the likes of Kenny G, albeit with no particular holiday feel to it.
All I Hope For Christmas is serviceablenothing more, nothing lessbut Rangell is fortunate enough to have a loyal fan base who will no doubt consider this above and beyond most smooth jazz holiday fare. If they want to expose someone else to Rangell's work, however, a far superior choice is 1993's Truest Heart, an outstanding and diverse fusion album that earned him acclaim as an "improviser nonpareil."
Personnel: Nelson Rangell, saxophones, piccolo, flute; Chip Stephens, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Mike Marlier,
drums; Alex Nekrasov, keyboards; Chuck Loeb, guitar; Chris Bank, vocals ("The Christmas Song");