How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Ride cymbal, walking bass and a comping jazz piano set the mood for this holiday surprise. Singer Crystal Lewis, a Christian recording artist with a lengthy discography, has opted to make her first Christmas album a straight-ahead jazz volume. A trio of LA’s finest accompanies Lewis on her tour of Christmas carols: pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Peter Erskine. Guitarist Dean Parks sits in for several numbers and a string section has been added to four tracks. The strings, which were recorded separately, offer a sober look at slower songs. “Silent Night,” for example feels right only when it’s performed in the traditional manner. No need to change that.
”Jingle Bells,” on the other hand, gets a New Orleans shuffle from Erskine’s drum set. The joyous spirit rising from his flapping brushes is balanced by Lewis’ straightforward approach. Throughout the album, she maintains a traditional style, adding occasional scat singing and feeling the rhythmic groove. Lewis cites Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin as prime influences. Youthful, clear & articulate, easy to like, and quite expressive, she’s equally at home with tradition and modern jazz. Another high point of the album comes from the quartet’s ultra-fast take of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Clear and crisp, yet straightforward and fast, the arrangement includes a highly creative piano interlude and a clinical drum solo. Carpenter takes a beautiful solo on “The Christmas Song,” lyrical and a perfect fit for Lewis’ interpretation. There’s something special about that combination – in the right hands – of a deep string bass alongside a tender soprano voice. Carpenter and Lewis make it work well. There are plenty of holiday albums on vendors’ shelves each year, but this one combines the best of several worlds to capture the spirit of Christmas as it should be felt.
Track Listing: Joy to the World; Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow; I
Personnel: Crystal Lewis- vocals; Alan Pasqua- piano, electric piano; Dave Carpenter- bass; Peter Erskine- drums; Dean Parks- guitar; Orchestra conducted by Alan Pasqua: Endre Granat, Bruce Dukov, Joel Derouin, Murray Adler, Armen Garabedian, Berj Garabedian, Clayton Haslop, Tiffany Hu, Rachel Purkin, Michelle Richards, Anatoly Rosinsky, Haim Shtrum- violin; Simon Oswell, John Scanlon, Matt Funes, Denyse Buffum, Mimi Granat, Lynne Grants- viola; Dennis Kamazyn, Larry Corbett, Paula Hochalter, Suzie Katayama- cello.