How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Just in time for the holidays comes this welcome “blizzard” of traditional melodies and other songs of the season carefully transplanted to a congenial Jazz climate by the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra. Among the well–known works gleaming in handsome new packages are the carols “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Good King Wenceslas” and “We Three Kings.” The orchestra also prudently reframes “Jingle Bells,” Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toy [Wooden?] Soldiers,” Bob Wells/Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song,” “The Little Drummer Boy” (an especially bluesy interpretation) and even Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” Suite (adapted by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn). In a more modern vein are Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born,” Shorty Rogers’ “Snowball” and Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” from the film Meet Me in St. Louis. John LaBarbera arranged “Snowball,” Stan Kenton and Ralph Carmichael did the same for “Gentlemen,” and Carmichael scored “King Wenceslas.” There are four vocals by clear–voiced Karen Gelb (“Let It Snow!,” “A Child Is Born,” “The Christmas Song,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”). Most of the charts are swing–based with “Snowball” and baritone saxophonist William Fritz’s Kentonesque arrangement of “Merry Little Christmas” manifesting the most contemporary veneer. Everything is tastefully realized by the 20–member ensemble under director James Ketch (who doubles in the trumpet section). Soloists are generally proficient, and the orchestra obviously completed its homework before entering the recording studio, as there are no disconcerting missteps. For those who prefer their Christmas punch with an extra kick, Holiday Jazz Blizzard embodies all the necessary ingredients to quench that thirst.
Track listing: Snowfall; Jingle Bells; Sleigh Ride; Let It Snow!; The Nutcracker Suite (Overture; Peanut Brittle Brigade; Sugar Rum Cherry; Vodka Vouty; Dance of the Floreadors); A Child Is Born; March of the Toy Soldiers; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Good King Wenceslas; The Christmas Song; We Three Kings; Santa Claus Is Coming to Town; Little Drummer Boy; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (66:26).
Rodney Marsh, David Reid, alto sax; Gregg Gelb, tenor sax, clarinet; Ira Wiggins, tenor sax; William Fritz, baritone sax, bass clarinet; George Broussard, Richard Liston, Caren Enloe, trombone; Michael Kris, bass trombone; Jerry Bowers, James Ketch, Jay Lineberry, Benjy Springs, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ed Paolontonio, piano; Scott Warner, piano (2, 3, 5