Yes, I know the holiday season is over, but big-band salutes to that special time of year aren’t just for Christmas anymore especially when they’re as spectacular as this one! [He asserts, tacking on a seldom used exclamation mark to emphasize the point.]
The aptly named Adventures in Jazz Orchesta Celebrates Christmas with fourteen superlative charts by leader / trombonist Ted Blumenthal, handsomely recorded by Tom Jung and wonderfully performed by a sixteen-member ensemble that has caught the holiday spirit and simply won’t let go. While many of the tunes are familiar, chances are you’ve seldom (or never) heard them played quite like this.
Highlights? Start with any track and get ready for an entirely pleasurable listening experience. Blumenthal’s arrangements are fabulous, the orchestra world-class, the music as festive and alluring as music can be. To complement the better-known seasonal melodies, Blumenthal has unearthed and renovated a number of seldom-heard treasures including “Let Us Play a Gay Musette,” “Pat-a-Pan,” “Once in Royal David’s City” and two of my personal favorites, “Carol of the Bells” and “Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella.”
It’s especially interesting that the album should have been released in the same year as A Kenton Christmas by the Capitol Bones Big Band, as there’s more than a dash of Kenton in Blumenthal’s dapper pen, most conspicuously in the colorful “Medley of Carols” and dramatic finale, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Nor should one overlook the many other screaming, spit-shined brass passages, mesmerizing saxophone figures, breathtaking trombone chorales, pensive piano soliloquys and singular rhythmic and contrapuntal patterns that have Kenton’s indelible fingerprints all over them.
While the ensemble shines brightest and most often, there are forceful solos along the way by saxophonists Ed Xiques, John Sergenian, Mark Fineberg and Scott Schachter; trombonists Blumenthal and Scott Whitfield; bass trombonist Joe Stanko, trumpeter Greg Gisbert and Ted's son, pianist Barry Blumenthal. Bill Crow, another familiar name, introduces the melody to “Silent Night” on Arco bass with flutes, then brass and reeds assuming the role of angelic choir.
We’ve applauded a number of excellent seasonal big-band albums in recent years, but none that warrants a more unreserved ovation than this. Celebrate Christmas with the AJO during summer, autumn, winter or spring and be of good cheer.
Contact: Tee Bee Music, 2 Townsend Court, Armonk, NY 10504.
Personnel: Ted Blumenthal, leader, arranger, trombone; Ed Xiques, alto, soprano sax; Mark
Fineberg, tenor sax; John Sergenian, tenor, soprano sax; Scott Schachter, baritone
sax (all double on flute); David Gale, Peter Hyde, Joyce Toth, John Reid, Greg
Gisbert (1-10), Jim Cifelli (11-14), trumpet; Bruce Bonvissuto, Scott Whitfield,
trombone; Joseph Stanko, bass trombone; Barry Blumenthal, piano; Bill Crow,
bass; James Mola, drums.