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Digital Music

A Gift From The Internet: Free Holiday Music

By Published: November 27, 2004
Norbert Kujus
Swinging Christmas

This collection of solo improvised guitar performances may not rank with the best, but they're a different and enjoyable introduction to a site offering several hundred - maybe even thousands - of free jazz recordings by European musicians.

Norbert Kujus offers six free songs on Swinging Christmas , with all but "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas" consisting of German compositions. He says he plays his electric nylon string guitar in the style of Joe Pass, Pat Metheny and John Scofield, and while it's a stretch to say he's on a level with any of those players one can hear approaches in his finger-picking and melodic style that give the claim credit.

There's little of the swing and Latin elements that make up his mainstream playing here. Instead he takes a mostly minimal lyrical approach at mellow tempos with little attempt at rhythm accompaniment. His phrasing is clean and never simplistic, more in tune with the traditions of Pass than the modernism of Metheny or Scofield. On a song like "Jingle Bells" where the listener has a familiar frame of reference he proves himself capable of going beyond melodic embellishments. Even so, he keeps such playing safe and harmonic which, when combined with his minimalist approach, keeps it from feeling like top- end musicsmanship.

Navigating the site is also a bit more annoying than many, especially since it's mostly in German. Even so, this is worth the time spent downloading it and those willing to do some patient browsing will find many of the other artists here offering a considerable amount of worthy fare. All in all, a fine Christmas gift from across the ocean.

Mildred and Buck Hicks
Floggin' The Yule Log (Vol. 1 and 2)

This is one's reward for doing a Google search of "Christmas," "MP3" and "kazoo."

Floggin' The Yule Log consists of two short collections of carols performed with everything ranging from earrings to a glass shower door. Some of it is humorous, some is awful and some is remarkably accomplished, but there's no denying all of it is unique and inspired.

A variety of jewelry and Corona bottles are used for "Jingul Bayuls." The "chorus" on "Carol Of The Bells" is a series of throat gulps. And it seems safe to say the nose flute rendition of "Up On The Housetop," accompanied by a body percussion and faux burping rhythm section, is a one-of-a-kind arrangement.

There's a mix of instrumental and vocal songs, with the latter usually so out-of-key they're truly annoying beyond novelty value. But it's not exactly like Mildred and Buck Hicks, plus those who joined them, are exactly looking for acclaim on these "off-the-cuff" pieces recorded hastily by singing at a computer. Since all the pieces are short, anything disturbing is over soon enough.

8bits People
The 8bits of Christmas

If there's any such thing as a "must-have" holiday album for old fogy videogamers, this is it.

The 8bits of Christmas features eight compositions by "dedicated chiptune maniacs" on machines such as the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and Nintendo Entertainment System. Ingenious and often hilarious, it admittedly can get annoying in a hurry, but since the entire thing is only 18 minutes long it's over before true misery sets in.

Generally the quality of the songs match the sophistication of the machines. "Silent Night" for the NES and "Let It Snow" for the Nintendo Gameboy sound like the background for "Mario's Christmas World." Dedicated Atari 2600 fans may be the only ones to fully appreciate the (oh, so relative) quality of "Up On The Housetop" Analogue synthesizer fans will find joy, briefly at least, in the VIC-20 composition "When A Child Is Bored," but it's a rather muddy piece far too heavy on bass. Also slightly disappointing is "The First Blip Blip Noel" on the Atari ST, arguable the most musically sophisticated computer here, with a fairly muffled-sounding synth/dance track that a number of older machines could probably match.

Most of the songs are recognizable and, perhaps not surprisingly, usually rely on a techno beat as a backdrop. It's hardly likely to become an annual or family tree-decorating staple, but it's hard to imagine there aren't at least a few video game fans on most people's shopping lists who will appreciate it. Even nongamers are likely to find listening to one or two songs at a time an amusing diversion.

Sue Keller
My Reindeer Don't Like To Fly

Speaking of old technology, pianist Sue Keller makes great use of it offering listeners a free version - in a way - of her 2004 holiday ragtime album My Reindeer Don't Like To Fly.

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