Christmas II: Whiskers on Kittens...
Small combo jazz makes a great soundtrack to the holiday season. The intimacy of trios and other small line-ups can foster creative and playful seasonal performances.
Bruno Hubert Trio and B3 Kings
A Cellar Live Christmas
A Cellar Live Christmas is a merry martini of a holiday disc. Split between the B3 Kings and the Bruno Hubert Trio, this festive spin provides a Christmas coin whose two faces reflect different aspects of small combo jazz. Don't expect greasy seasonal offerings just because half of the disc is by an organ trio. The album has more class than that, not James Bond's Casino Royale class, more Sam Spade's The Big Sleep. A seasonal B3 Kings' "Jingle Bells" provides the set's introduction, a great vehicle for Cory Weed's alto saxophone and Bill Coon's guitar. Bruno Hubert follows with an angular "Little Drummer Boy," sung by B3 Kings' drummer, Denzal Sinclaire.
The two groups alternate cuts, with the B3 Kings swinging "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" (sporting a superb Bill Coon solo), "Away In A Manager," and a rocking "Dance Of The Sugar Plums." Hubert answers with 20-year-old port versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" (check out Andre Lachance's bass solo), "I Saw Three Ships" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." This is a tasteful, full-bodied selection of traditional seasonal songs performed with care and spirit. If one wishes only a single seasonal jazz disc for 2006, let it be A Cellar Live Christmas.
A Very Special Charlie Brown Holiday Collection
Pass this one by. I suspect that Concord Music Group is going to release a Vince Guaraldi-related holiday release every year from here on out. Besides this United States Postal Service Exclusive, Concord has also released in 2006 A Charlie Brown Christmas (wasn't this remastered and re-released in 2003?). Understanding that this album is ostensibly to aid the US Postal Service, its release is nevertheless disingenuous. Added to the standard Guaraldi fare are Gerald Albright's "O Tannenbaum" (from 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas as are the other additions), chock full of every smooth jazz cliché possible. The Dave Benoit Trio provides acceptable "Rudolph" and "Jingle Bells," while Concord attempts further to needlessly update the classic collection with Vanessa Williams ("Just Like Me") and Toni Braxton ("It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year").
Concord would have done better by having Benoit release his own take on the Guaraldi classic, as Wynton Marsalis and Cyrus Chestnut did. This would have honored Concord and the Postal Service. Having said this, A Very Special Charlie Brown Holiday Collection will satisfy many listeners as well as benefit the constantly beleaguered US Postal Service. There is a bit of the old and a bit of the new from two prominent recordings that provide a pleasant enough holiday mix. Purists, however, will prefer A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Tidings Of Comfort And Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas
La Befana Records
The enigmatic Jim Skafish provides a most satisfying jazz holiday release in Tidings Of Comfort and Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas. Imagine, if you will, seasonal offerings performed by a cross between Thelonious Monk, Don Pullen and Tommy Flanagan. Skafish possesses a beautiful, fully formed approach to jazz piano. It's refreshingly edgy, almost noir in its abstractness, and bassist Lawrence Kohut and drummer Tom Hipskind match the mood perfectly. Skafish's approach to time-worn tunes is best heard in the introduction of "Joy To The World," "What Child Is This" and "Angels We Have Heard On High," the last one touching the very essence of edgy jazz. This is post-Miles Davis post bop at its very best. Don't think Skafish is all about upbeat cyber bop though. He can bust a wicked ballad too, as he and his gang prove on "Away In A Manager" (where he plays trills from the Gene Harris songbook).
Central to the disc is the 10-minute plus "We Three Kings Fusion." Here, every progressive element of Skafish's style collides in a nuclear fusion that could fire the star of Bethlehem. Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, all are channeled in this sprawling piece of trio jazz. "Fusion" is the best piece of piano trio jazz performance I have heard all year and makes this disc shine as brightly as the hope of the season.