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IV. Christmas 2005: And Something Smooth...

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Something Old | Something New | Something Strange | And Something Smooth

Whew! The temperature has finally dropped to normal late-November levels, just in time for a Bombay Sapphire Martini, sunny-side up and this holiday's spate of smooth jazz.

Various Artists

40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Peak Records

2005

40 Years is a David Benoit project from start to finish. It is characterized by added production by the way of lush strings and horns. The engineering is impeccable and Benoit's piano is sharp and effective. Benoit provides compositions like "Just Like Me, a pleasant vehicle for Vanessa Williams and re-arrangements like Gerald Albright's take on "O Tannenbaum. Dave Koz is given alto saxophone reign on the famous Guaraldi composition, "Linus and Lucy, which is fully supported by Benoit's double-fisted pianism. Toni Braxton is assigned,"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, accompanied by guitarist Grant Geissman and, yes, David Benoit. The Rippingtons turn out a funky, understated "Red Baron. If smooth jazz ever needed a definition, I would point the inquiring mind to this recording.

Various Artists

Favored Nations: Acoustic Christmas

Favored Nations Entertainment

2005

Favored Nations Entertainment (the brainchild of Steve Vai) is heading in the direction of Narada and Windham Hill by issuing a Christmas disc highlighting the current talent the label has in its stable. Where FN departs the others is the broadness of its repertoire and artists. Andy Timmons works out "Greensleeves on gut-string with a light Latin accent. Johnny Hiland gives us a flatpicking cum Chet Atkins "Home for the Holidays, blurring genres with a half bluegrass half jazz organ trio performance. Adrian Legg begins "Jingle Bells as if on slide guitar before it becomes apparent that he is tuning and detuning selected strings, perhaps on a six string mixed with a twelve string. "Jingle Bells perfect captures the uniqueness of Legg's performance, shining a light on the rest of the artists. It is Greg Koch that brings in the slide guitar, playing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as if he were Robert Johnson performing with Le Hot Club du France. The Dillengers give a strange barrelhouse reading of "Run Rudolph Run, Mimi Fox swings through an engaging "Winter Wonderland. This is not the standard New Age acoustic holiday disc.

Craig Chaquico

Holiday

Craig Chaquico

2005

Guitarist Craig Chaquico puts on a brilliant smooth jazz performance on Holiday. The pieces chosen for this holiday fare are lightly and not so lightly accented with Latin rhythms and virtuosic guitar playing. Chaquico receives plush support from his band and guests, most particularly, multi-instrumentalist Bill Heller, who provide the guitarist razor sharp arrangements. The music most effective on this over all fine recording are the original compositions, the "Waltz Of The Winter Constellations, "Ashes Of The Fall / Winterflame / Embers Still Aglow and "Nonesuch / Ladies' Bramzel medleys. Craig Chaquico displays his mainstream and blues chops while never drawing the hard line on either. On the standard carols, "Angels We Have Heard on High and "Silent Night are uniquely arranged to demonstrate Chaquico's single string and chordal soloing. This is an exceptional recording. Please put down that tired Kenny G disc and try something new for a change—Holiday is it.

Lev Polyakin

Christmas Kaleidoscope

Lev Polyakin

2005

Okay, this one really does not belong here. Christmas Kaleidoscope is one of those discs that emits disparate musical influences like some kind of inventive radiation, leaving the listener (and critic) in an amnesia necessary to enjoy music properly...on its own terms. A fiddler, Polyakin, weaves multiple sources of music into his performances. "Let It Snow is a perfect cross between American swing and Le Hot Club du France. "My Favorite Things might have been heard at Rick's American during the war rather than the von Trapp's in pre-war Austria. In fact, stylistically, this recording is almost the perfect concept period recording not unlike what Uri Caine accomplished with his Wagner e Venezia recording.

Track and Personnel Listings

40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Christmas Is Coming—David Benoit; Just Like Me—Vanessa Williams; Linus And Lucy—Dave Koz; It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year—Toni Braxton; My Little Drum—Rick Braun; Skating—Norman Brown; Christmas Time Is Here—Brian McKnight; O Tannenbaum—Gerald Albright; Red Baron—The Rippingtons—(featuring Russ Freeman); The Christmas Song—Chaka Khan; Fur Elise—David Benoit; Christmas Time Is Here (Reprise)—Eric Marienthal.

Favored Nations: Acoustic Christmas

Greensleeves—Andy Timmons; Home For The Holidays—Johnny Hiland; Jingle Bells—Adrian Legg; We Pray Sanctus—Peppino D'Agostino; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen—Greg Koch; Run Rudolf Run—The Dillengers; Winter Wonderland—Mimi Fox; Fodere L'Astronome—Pierre Bensusan; The 25th Day—Pete Huttlinger; Meditation From Thais—Marty Friedman.

Holiday

Tracks: Angels We Have Heard On High; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Ashes Of The Fall / Winterflame / Embers Still Aglow; Jingle Bells / Jingle Bells (Slight Return); Silent Night; Every Day's A Holiday; We Wish You A Merry Christmas; White Christmas; Hark The Herald Angels Sing; Waltz Of The Winter Constellations; Nonesuch / Ladies' Bramzel.

Personnel: Craig Chaquico: guitar and a cast of thousands.

Christmas Kaleidoscope

Tracks: Let it Snow; We Three Kings of Orient Are; 3. White Christmas; Largo from "Winter" of The Four Seasons; (Vivaldi) Little Drummer Boy; The Christmas Song; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; "Sheep May Safely Graze" (from Bach cantata); Ave Maria; Jingle Bells; Silent Night.

Personnel: Lev Polyakin: violin; Martha Aarons: flute, piccolo; Mike Petrone: piano; Martin Block: bass; Roy King: drums; Bob Frasier: guitar; Margarita Shevchenko: piano; Ellen De Pasquale, Takao Masame: violins; Robert Vernon: viola; Desmond Hoebig: cello; Thomas Sperl: bass; Steven Witzer: trombone; Zello Ahni: harpsichord.

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