Various Artists: Latin Jazz Christmas (2003)
“From the bottom of my heart,” sings Pete Escovedo in a lovely arrangement of “Feliz Navidad” as he and his family wish us a Merry Christmas. Other tracks send similar wishes our way from Poncho Sanchez and his hardy crew, Caribbean Jazz Project, Sheila E., and several ensembles led by Ed Calle. There are surprises on every level. Traditional holiday favorites are interpreted with wrappings quite apart from what we’ve received in years past.
Calle and Arturo Sandoval remind us that “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with a hip-swinging mambo mood that promises evenings filled with much more than sugarplum fairies and interrupted dreams. Tenor saxophone and trumpet bring it all alive on the living room dance floor with stars shining all night long. A son montuno piano chorus, a syncopated conga gait, conversational fours between friends, and an ever-present bass foundation serve to brighten the holidays.
Sheila E. sings “Santa Baby” with a fun-loving sense of humor. Dave Valentin and Dave Samuels share “Angels We Have Heard On High” with an ocean breeze and a deeper meaning that is felt all over the world. Calle takes a feature on “White Christmas” worthy of the song’s many decades spent settling down by the fireplace. “Silent Night” doesn’t translate as well, since the cha cha cha backdrop provided by Caribbean Jazz Project carries with it an overload of moving feet and tapping fingers.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad” are more like it. The vocal authority of leaders Sanchez and Escovedo, respectively, pumps up the band and its audience. These veterans make you want to enjoy your holidays. Besides Sanchez’s thrilling conga barrage, he’s included perfectly suitable tenor saxophone and trumpet solos by Scott Martin and Sal Cracchiolo as well. Similarly, Escovedo adds Ray Obiedo’s solo guitar to the mix to round out the holiday schedule. Latin Jazz Christmas serves as a gift in many ways, and it’s meant to be enjoyed. As Sanchez is fond of saying, “Pa gozar.”
Track Listing: Jingle Bells; Sleigh Ride; What Child Is This?; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Santa Baby; Angels We Have Hears On High; White Christmas; Silent Night; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Feliz Navidad.
Personnel: Ed Calle- tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, synths, electric piano, alto flute, soprano saxophone; Dave Valentin- flute; Melecio Magdaluyo- baritone saxophone; Scott Martin- tenor saxophone; Arturo Sandoval, Jeff Kievit, Jim Hacker, Lewis Fasman, Sal Cracchiolo- trumpet; Francisco Torres, Dana Teboe, John Kricker, Jeff Kressman, Wayne Wallace- trombone; Dave Samuels- vibraphone; Jim Gasior, David Torres- piano; Murray Low- keyboards; Dan Warner, Ray Obiedo, Steve Khan- guitar; Mark Van Wageningen, Tony Banda, Ruben Rodriguez- bass; Nicky Orta- electric bass; Paul Van Wageningen, Lee Levin- drums; Ramon Banda- timbales; Pete Escovedo- timbales, vocals; Dafnis Prieto- timbales, drums; Juan Escovedo- congas; Poncho Sanchez- congas, chekere, percussion; Roberto Quintero- congas, percussion; Richard Bravo- percussion; Jose