XMAS I: Bela Fleck, Spyro Gyra, The Gospel Christmas Project, Holly Cole, Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" rarely translates into a contemporary groove but as arranged by Andrew Craig does exactly that. The group pulls off a powerful statement of the classic that should be in no way offensive to the more conservative listener. Mahalia Jackson's "Go Tell it On the Mountain" is tenderly introduced by Hammond B-3 specialist Richard Wilson and in duet by Jackie Richardson and Alana Bridgewater. In tribute to Jackson, all four singers chime in on "O Holy Night." Craig's arranging talent shows a deep loam of creativity in this song.
"Once In Royal David's City/Away in the Manager" seems an unlikely vehicle for a gospel band, but these two tried and true carols come about well. Chris Lowe's soulful voice paves the way for Alana Bridgewater in their duet that mixes the musical fragrances of frankincense and myrrh. The Gospel Christmas Project is an exciting and joyful celebration that is nevertheless quite specific in its appeal. This may not be Christmas music for everyone, but it's wonderful.
Visit The Gospel Christmas Project on the Web.
Baby, It's Cold Outside
The only thing that is cold or rather cool about singer Holly Cole's Baby, It's Cold Outside is the aesthetic hipness of the music. Cole is anything but cool in her approach to an interesting holiday collection. Her coy, hip, breathy sexiness permeates every song on the disc, saving even the misguided performance of the title track (which sounds more Sound of Music than Dean Martin).
The disc is divided between traditional fare (Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas time is Here" and Mel Torme's "Christmas Song) and new considerations (the traditional "What is this Lovely Fragrance" and Merle Haggard's "If We Make it Through December"). Also divided are the formats used. Cole fronts everything from a single musician (bassist Dave Piltch on the superb sexy "Sleigh Ride") to the little big band ("'Zat You Santa Claus" and "Wildwood Carol").
Cole throughout is hiply detached on the lighter pieces like the almost free form "Sleigh Ride" and the lullaby "What About Me," and densely committed on others like "If We Make it Through December" and the pastoral "What is this Lovely Fragrance." "Sleigh Ride" is the must-hear on the recording, capturing Cole in the environs that made her famous as a popular/jazz vocalist. The only question that remains is what took Holly Cole so long to consider a holiday disc?
Visit Holly Cole on the Web.
Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
An Odd Christmas
An Odd Christmas fully channels the spirit of the late drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich. That is, this collection of holiday favorites is arranged and performed with such artistic certainty and swagger as to make proper church women blush. The disc opens with "Watch Out!," an arrangement of "Santa Claus is coming to Town" by lead trumpeter John Ahern. Drummer Dave Perry gets a lengthy workout on the song, which swings so hard that critics will have to apply for workers' comp for the whiplash they will sustain. Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" receives a light jazz treatment comforted with electric piano and bass clarinet. Charmin Michelle's possesses a little girl's voice that enchants the piece. Gary Berg's harmonica give just the right bouquet to the song.
"Prayer (For The Common Man)" is loosely structured after Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." "Prayer" is slowly cheerful, setting an introverted holiday spirit. The horn charts shimmer. "Wassailing" gets an almost marching band treatment from alto saxophonist Bob Byer's arrangement. Guitarist John Hyvarinen is allowed a long circuitous solo that is delicate and rounded.
"An Odd Christmas," in two parts, is a swirling jazz transmogrification of several carols and is presented in odd meters. This is one nifty bit of big band arranging by Perry, that translates well both as holiday classics and jazz perfomances. Hyvarinen opens the second part with a plaintive "Christmas Song," going on perfom unison soli with the reeds in 11/4 time. No mean feat! "Winter Wonderland" has the return of Charmin Michelle with similar results heard on "Christmas Time is Here." "Little Drummer Boy" allows some intersting cymbal work by Kevin Dammen. The melody is taken a bit flat, creating a compelling tension that pearmeates this entire set of Christmas favorites.
Visit Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra on the Web.
Tracks and Personnel
Jingle All The Way
Tracks: Jingle Bells; Silent Night; Sleigh Ride; The Christmas Song; The Twelve Days of Christmas; J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio - Ich Will Nur Zu Ehren Leben; Christmas Time is Here; Linus and Lucy; Jingle Bells [Reprise]; The Hanukkah Waltz; Danse of the Sugar Plum Fairies; What Child is This/Dyngyldai; O Come All Ye Faithful; Medley; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; River.