Making a holiday CD is definitely a challenge that many artists take on but few succeed at with something that sounds unique enough to catch listeners' attention. After all, by early December one is already fed up with all the music played at record stores, coffee houses and even at the local supermarket.
When it comes to jazz, it becomes even harder as new artists end up having to compete with various reissues that flood the shelves at this time. The good news is that these two new discs actually deserve closer attention from fans.
Trio West Trio West Plays Holiday Songs The Orchard
On Plays Holiday Songs, the New York-based Trio West tears through a mostly traditional set of holiday songs using a simple structure of piano, bass and drums as a foundation for improvisation. Though listeners will easily recognize the tunes from the onset, drummer Tobias T. Gebb has taken much care in working out arrangements to honor the songs without sounding derivative.
The tunes are mostly taken from the traditional Christmas songbook, including "Silent Night , "O' Tannenbaum and "O Little Town of Bethlehem . There are, however, more recent compositions, like Vince Guaraldi's infallible "Christmas Time Is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which here receives a very mellow treatment via pianist Eldad Zvulun's very subtle touch, bassist Neal Miner and Gebb following suit.
The concept of this disc is completely unpretentious, so do not expect much experimentalism here. There are, however, some moments in which the trio seems to let it rip a bit. Take for example the Mel Tormé classic "The Christmas Song (a tune that was so popular with Nat Cole that he even performed it during the summer). They allow themselves to stray a little from the original melody and both Zvulun and bassist Miles Brown (who plays on three tracks recorded during a different session) perform accomplished solos during its middle section. "I'll Be Home For Christmas has the distinction of being the most adventurous moment on the disc, but unfortunately runs for less than two minutes. One wishes the group had run through that one for longer, as they did with "The Little Drummer Boy , where the musicians took advantage of its structure to insert some Middle Eastern-influenced riffs.
Origin Records Holiday Collection
Origin Records Holiday Collection, Vol 2
On The Cool Season: An Origin Records Holiday Collection, Vol. 2, produced by drummer John Bishop (who also plays in it), the musical direction is a little different as every tune is fodder for improvisation. Trumpeter Thomas Marriott takes a long solo on "The Christmas Song as the group follows with a Latin-inspired beat and on "Winter Wonderland , pianist Bill Anschell also fills in with a few Cuban-inspired riffs in between the original melody.
One of the disc's highlights is the Johnson original "Winter Solace . The mood on that track brings to mind early Miles Davis, especially when hearing the inspired work of Marriott during its first bars. The tune has a soothing melody quite pleasing to the ear without going on a 'soft' jazz mode. Listen also to the Coltrane-esque interpretation of "Skating , an up-tempo piece also from A Charlie Brown Christmas that gets you by the guts.
This CD will please more avant-garde jazz fans in search of alternatives to the music that bombards us at this time of year. It is a good substitute to whatever is on the PA system at your local storehighly recommended for your iPod.
Tracks and Personnel
Trio West Plays Holiday Songs
Tracks: O Tannenbaum;Silent Night;Christmas Time Is Here; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; What Child Is This (Green Sleeves); Winter Wonderland; Little Drummer Boy;O Little Town Of Bethlehem; What Are You doing New Year's Eve;The Christmas Song;I'll Be Home For Christmas; Little Drummer Boy (Alt. Arrangement)
Personnel: Tobias Gebb :drums and percussion; Eldad Zvulun:piano; Neal Miner: bass; Miles Brown:bass
The Cool Season
Tracks: Christmastime is Here; The Christmas Song; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Winter Solace; Pretty Paper; Skating; Sing We Now Of Christmas: Blackberry Winter
Personnel: Thomas Marriott, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bill Anschell, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass; John Bishop, drums