I. Christmas 2005: Something Old...
As I write this piece, my home base in Arkansas this holiday season is experiencing record high temperatures. Eighty-degree weather in mid-November does not set one up for anticipating the holidays. Add to this, the deluge of holiday music, all worthy of mention, crossing my desk. This all sets the stage for a more expansive list than in past years, one that I am dividing into four Bailey's Bundles. This first group looks at some older music that is resurfacing.
A Jazz Guitar Christmas
Moon Cycle Records
Crazy as it is, this recording was part of my holiday roundup last year. One has to honor persistence and here is what I wrote then. A superb recording of Christmas jazz guitar is the one hour-plus A Jazz Guitar Christmas by Royce Campbell and his trio with bassist Tom Baldwin and drummer Howard Curtis. Let It Snow clocks in at a briskly played six minutes providing guitarist Campbell ample room to stretch out. Campbell gets to workout again on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town and "We Three Kings. The leader gives his sidemen the room to move also. Campbell is not afraid to venture into the free/avant-garde realm when investigating these carols and seasonal songs. This disc is a bit more challenging than many other mainstream offerings, but is well worth the effort to hear.
O Magnum Mysterium
Robert Lawson Shaw (1916-1999) is considered certainly the finest American choral director, if not the finest universally. Such accolades are not mere hyperbole. Shaw's Messiah is considered by many the best modern instrument performance available. O Magnum Mysterium contain all of the genetic material of a Shaw-trained chorus: Perfect tonal blending coupled with well balanced, emotive phrasing. Maestro Shaw was no ground-breaker, choosing to observe the composer's directions closely. Shaw turns his attention to some of the many settings of the Christmas offering "O magnum mysterium" ("O Great Mystery ). All that Shaw's art is manifested in the old (Thomas Tallis's "If Ye Love Me and Tomas Luis de Victoria's setting of the Title) and the contemporary (Poulenc's austere setting of the Title and a selection from Rachmaninov's Vespers) The American Traditional hymns, "Amazing Grace and Sometimes I Feel Like a Moanin' Dove. All a capella and beautifully pure.
Let's Share Christmas
John Pizzarelli was at the top of his game and popularity when he released Let's Share Christmas. He assembled an impressive band, one that also shows up on Madame Diana Krall's Christmas Song. Pizzarelli was never a Sinatra wannabe, like other artists. He is a more accomplished guitarist (along with his father Bucky, who joins him on this recording) than a vocalist, and he is a pretty damn good vocalist, more Fred Astaire than Bing Crosby. "Let it Snow, "Sleigh Ride, and "White Christmas are quite juggernauts, surrounded by the soft down of "Let's Share Christmas, "Christmastime is Here, and "Snowfall. After a decade, Let's Share Christmas endures well.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
I couldn't help but re-read David Rickert's review of the newly reisssued Whipped Cream and Other Delights. This music was very popular when it was first released. And there is no way that it could not sound dated today. So how to resolve such a critical conflict? Simple: nostalgia. A Charlie Brown Christmas is just as old and as I close in on fifty, anything that would remind me of when I was a child sharing Christmas with all of my siblings, parents, and grandparents is worth listening to, no matter how poorly it aged. In the same way that the Ventures stamped all of their music with a surf sound, so did Alpert and the brass apply their trademark Latin staccato trumpets and dyskinetic cha-cha rhythm to all they touched. This is Christmas fun to the maximum.
Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine
While not proper seasonal fare, Claudio Monteverdi's (1567 · 1643) The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, 1610 nevertheless deserve a Christmas consideration. Vespro della Beata Vergine is considered Monteverdi's greatest work, proud thought for a composer who excelled in all choral areas, including madrigals and the reformation of opera. Vespers is a term derived from the Hours of the Divine Office in Roman Catholic Tradition. The Vespers have remained structurally intact for the past 1500 years and are built around several Biblical texts traditionally used as part of the liturgy for several feasts honoring the Blessed Virgin. The overall structure includes the introductory Deus in adjutorum (Psalm 69), five psalms taken from Psalms 109-147, antiphons to both precede and follow each psalm, a hymn, a setting of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and the concluding Benedicamus Domino.