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Harry Allen: Christmas in Swingtime

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Although it was recorded in New York City, the liner notes for this splendid holiday release by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen are in Japanese, an indication that it was not necessarily aimed at a domestic audience but one that is somewhat farther east. What’s more, the copy I have is on the BMG label while the accompanying press release is from Koch Jazz, which, presumably, obtained the distribution rights from BMG (and has provided an English translation of Dan Polletta’s notes). Are you following me so far? Good. There’ll be a pop quiz later. Allen, who turned thirty–five in October (happy birthday, Harry), is a throwback to an earlier era in which lyricism and a lovely sound reigned supreme, and his influences range from Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster to Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and, among his contemporaries, Scott Hamilton. To these ears, he sounds most like Getz with Zoot’s unerring sense of time. What’s important, of course, is that Allen swings under any and all conditions including seasonal. When it comes to Jazz, there’s little difference between Christmas songs and others; they’re all comprised of chord changes, and once one knows the changes he can treat them like any other number, which is what Allen and his talented colleagues do here. After stating the melody they take the song wherever it leads them, which is invariably along a most picturesque and agreeable byway. Larry Goldings, who’s also an excellent pianist, stays with the Hammond on this date. He and mellow guitarist Peter Bernstein obviate the need for a bassist, while drummer Jake Hanna is a model of taste and proficiency. The quartet is augmented on one number, “Blue Christmas,” by vocalist John Pizzarelli who sounds rather like a latter–day version of Chet Baker. Most of these tunes should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s not been sequestered in a cave, the possible exception being Johnny Mandel’s “Christmas Love Song,” which closes the album. There’s one bona fide “burner,” the traditional carol “Ding! Dong! Merry on High,” on which everyone is in an exuberant holiday mood. The rest is slow to medium but no less earnest. If you can envision Stan Getz playing carols and other seasonal fare you’ll have a reasonably accurate idea of what to expect from Christmas in Swingtime.

Track Listing: O Christmas Tree; Santa Claus Is Coming to Town; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Let It Snow, Let It Snow; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; White Christmas; Blue Christmas; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Rudolph the Red

Personnel: Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Larry Goldings, organ; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Jake Hanna, drums; John Pizzarelli, vocal (

Record Label: KOCH International Jazz

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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