Various Artists: The Reasons for Christmas Project (2003)
The Poconos... honeymooners flock there in spring to bathe in heart-shaped tubs, families arrive in summer for a swim through glistening lakes, hikers arrive in the fall to see the changing leaves, and in the winter... Well, there's the skiing, the skating, the cuddling by the fire... and there's the area's burgeoning music community, which convened this year to create a delightful Christmas album, The Reasons For Christmas.
The project provided an opportunity for up and coming Poconos area musicians to appear on the same disc as legendary figures like saxophonist Phil Woods, and pianist John Coates Jr., and best of all, proceeds raised from the sale of the album benefit a worthy cause: the Pocono Area Transitional Housing (PATH), a local organization that provides support to homeless families with children.
Holiday brawls around the CD player might diminish a bit with this disc. It features an array of styles. There's swinging ragtime on "Good King Wenceslas," performed by the Gap Time Ensemble; 17th Century sounds on "Pastoral," a Wolfgang Knittle arrangement based on "Joy To The World"; and light rock rhythms with violin highlights on Bobby Syvarth's "An Extra Prayer," which inspired the creation of the album.
Seven of the eleven songs are originals. Bob Dorough sings and plays piano on his tune "Wouldn't It Be Wonderful If Christmas Came," a smiley carol heralding peace on earth. It features an ebullient choir of local students in addition to an eleven-piece band. Spencer and Nancy Reed harmonize with each other, later scatting on Woods' harrowing, prophetic song "Gifts For The Children," backed by intimately sparse guitar and bass.
The classic Christmas tunes are real treats. With a nostalgic intro that leaps into a snappy verse, Phil Woods' arrangement of "White Christmas" is perfect for settling down and putting the finishing touches on the tree. And the David Liebman Group's take on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" will surely leave the embers glowing in the fire well past Christmas dinner.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: "Wouldn't It Be Wonderful If Christmas Came" - Bob Dorough; "White Christmas" - Phil Woods; "On Christmas Day" - Jesse Green & Jerry Harris; "Silent Night" - John Coates, Jr.; "A Little Prayer" - Bobby Syvarth; "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - The David Liebman Group; "Let's Make Each Day Like Christmas" - Vicki & Eric Doney Band; "Gifts For The Children" - Nancy Reed & Spencer Reed; "Good King Wenceslas" - The Gaptime Ensemble; "Waiting For Christmas" - Gary Dillon; "Pastoral" - Calliope & The Water Gap Brass