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Bailey's Bundles

Five Golden Rings for Christmas

By Published: December 3, 2011
The 2011 holidays are nearly upon us and with them, the requisite focused recordings. The number of such offerings has diminished in the last number of years. What has not diminished is the quality of the recordings, as evidenced by these five "golden rings."

Happy holidays, jazz fans.

Elisabeth Lohninger Band

Christmas in July

Jazz Sick Records

2011

Austrian singer and studio maven Elisabeth Lohninger
Elisabeth Lohninger
Elisabeth Lohninger
b.1970
vocalist
follows her exceptional Beneath Your Surface (Lofish Music, 2004), The Only Way Out is Up (Lofish Music, 2007) and Songs of Love and Destruction (Lofish Music, 2010), with a polyglot offering, Christmas in July.

What separates Christmas in July from most other straight-ahead holiday recordings is its intelligence. The disc opener, "Giant Chestnutz/Christmas," is so clever that it almost escapes notice. Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
's Christmas standard is reharmonized by pianist Walter Fischbacher
Walter Fischbacher
b.1966
keyboard
using John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's "Giant Steps" as the underpinning. From there, Lohninger passes through Brazil ("Os Meninos Da Mangueira"), France ("Petit Papa Noel") and Denmark ("Den Yndigste rose") before arriving at her native Austria for a most exciting (and disconcerting) "Stille Nacht." The arrangements make the songs and Lohninger holds steady with a most demanding repertoire.

Ellis Marsalis

A New Orleans Christmas Carol

ELM Records

2011

A New Orleans Christmas Carol is pianist Ellis Marsalis
Ellis Marsalis
Ellis Marsalis
b.1934
piano
' A Festival of Carols (after King's College, Cambridge). It is more a suite than a simple collection of seasonal songs, a thoughtfully conceived and assembled extended work. Marsalis structures his suite using ensembles of different sizes and composition. He opens solo, playing a pensive "O Tannenbaum" before moving into a percussion heavy "Little Drummer Boy." Cynthia Liggins Thomas is a masterfully presented interpretation of trumpeter Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Thad Jones
1923 - 1986
trumpet
"A Child is Born."

Marsalis' son and drummer Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
b.1977
drums
emerges as a vibraphone contender on "O Holy Night" and Vince Guaraldi
Vince Guaraldi
Vince Guaraldi
1928 - 1976
piano
's "Christmas Time is Here." His understated approach is more Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
than Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
and more Joe Locke
Joe Locke
Joe Locke
b.1959
vibraphone
than Milt Jackson. Elegance is the word that comes to mind when listening to the elder Marsalis. Like his son, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
, Marsalis is reverent of older forms of jazz and is well schooled in each. A New Orleans Christmas Carol holds up well beside Wynton's excellent A Crescent City Christmas Card (Columbia, 1992).

Chris Bauer

In a Yuletide Groove—Harmonic Jazz for the Holidays

Self Produced

2011

This is the fringe outlier of the seasonal releases, the one that challenges us to listen and enjoy. In jazz, the singular name associated with the harmonica is Toots Theilmanns (though Hendrik Meurkens
Hendrik Meurkens
Hendrik Meurkens
b.1957
harmonica
has been making noise with his chromatic harp these last several years). In a small field dominated by such a large name, it is a bit hard to get attention. Chris Bauer
Chris Bauer
Chris Bauer
b.1960
harmonica
has been haunting harmonic jazz for some 40 years and has released five previous recordings.

In a Yuletide Groove—Harmonic Jazz for the Holidays turns out to be an immediately enjoyable offering. Bauer is a grand straight-ahead player not given to pyrotechnics, but still blessed with solid chops and an acute ear for melody and improvisation. His melody is muscular and improvisation densely smart. Bauer amps up the Latin vibe on "Feliz Navidad" and presents one of the post strange and haunting takes of Schubert's "Ave Maria" on record. The harmonica has got a pretty back hick reputation, one that is wholly undeserved. In the hands of such a master as Bauer, it is good as tenor gold.


class="f-left s-img" >Tony Bennett

The Classic Chrismas Album

Legacy Records

2011

Do you know what Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr.
b.1967
piano
, Peter Cincotti
Peter Cincotti
Peter Cincotti
b.1983
piano
Tony DeSare and Michael Buble
Michael Buble
Michael Buble
b.1975
vocalist
have in common? None of them are Tony Bennett (or, by proxy, Frank Sinatra). Bennett has been the authentic voice of popular music since the 1940s, Sinatra's favorite singer and the epitome of the singer of the "pop" song (in an older vernacular). Bennett's The Classic Christmas Album, which offers only the previously unreleased "What Child is This" as an explanation for yet one more rehashed Bennett Christmas album, begs consideration specifically because of its subject. As a single entity, with no regard for what came before, The Classic Christmas Album, with the possible exception of Bennett's indulging his daughter with a duet on "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," is as fine a holiday music offering as one could expect.

Bennett obviously had fun recording this repertoire, as evidenced by his chuckling and mirthful delivery of "My Favorite Things" and his barely contained celebration in the coda of "Christmas In Herald Square." Giants are always acknowledged by looking backwards. It is nice to have one in our midst that we can still properly appreciate and be thankful for. Is that not the reason for the season?

Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury

Messiah

House of Classics

2011

No holiday season is complete without a new recording of Handel's Messiah and 2011 is no exception. Except that the performance of note is 20 years old and way overdue for a reissue. Stephen Cleobury and The Choir of King's College, Cambridge's Messiah, originally released on Argo in 1993, is based on Handel's 1751 version and is the only authentic conventional S(oprano)A(lto)T(enor)B(ass) performance on record. This is a crystal clear, fully realized performance of Il Sasson's masterpiece.

The band Cleobury employed was the period-instrument Brandenburg Consort under the direction of Roy Goodman. Much progress had been made since the harsh character of Christoper Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music recording of 1980 (Archiv). Modern sonics permit the warmth of period performance to be better captured and Goodman takes full advantage of his fine group. Perfect tempi are also employed, neither too fast (McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, Arkhiv, 1997) or too slow (Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, RCA, 1959). Outstanding is alto Hillary Summers and her features "Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive" and "He was Despised" are near perfect performances. If any of the myriad recordings of Messiah deserved re-issue, it is this one.



Tracks and Personnel

Christmas in July

Tracks: Giant Chestnutz/Christmas Song; Os Meninos Da Mangueira; In Notte Placida; Potpourri Da Navidad; Mary's Boy child; Petit Papa Noel; Glans Over Sjo Strand; Advent; Christmas Eve; Den Yndigste Rose; Von Himmel Hoch O Englein Kommt; Stille Nacht.

Personnel: Elisabeth Lohninger: vocals; Axel Fischbacher: guitar; Walter Fischbacher: piano; Johannes Weidemuller: bass; Ulf Stricker: drums.

A New Orleans Christmas Carol

Tracks: O Tannenbaum' The Little Drummer Boy; We Three Kings; A Child Is Born; God Rest You Merry Gentlemen; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; O Holy Night; Winter Wonderland; Christmas Time is Here; Silent Night; O Little Town of Bethlehem; have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Christmas Joy; Sleigh Ride; Greensleeves; The Christmas Song; We Wish You and Merry Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; The Little Drummer Boy.

Personnel: Ellis Marsalis: piano; Bill Huntington, Peter Harris: bass; Jason Marsalis: drums, percussion, vibraphone; Roman Skskun: vibraphone.

In a Yuletide Groove—Harmonic Jazz for the Holidays

Tracks: Winter Wonderland; Feliz Navidad; I'll Be Home for Christmas; Frosty the Snowman; Christmastime Is Here; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer; Home for the Holidays; We Three Kings; The Christmas Song; Let It Snow; My Favorite Things; White Christmas; O Tannenbaum; Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town; Ave Maria. .

Personnel: Chris Bauer: harmonica; Glenn McClelland: keyboards; Chris Ziemer: guitar; Matt Parrish: bass; Matt Mohn: drums; Rob Paprozzi: vocals, harmonica (15); Patty Bauer: keyboards (16).

The Classic Christmas Album

Tracks: Santa Claus is Coming to Town; My Favorite Things; Christmas Time Is Here; Deck The Halls; The First Noel; The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire); Silver Bells; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; O Little Town Of Bethlehem; I Love The Winter Weather; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; Christmas In Herald Square; I'll Be Home For Christmas; O Come All Ye Faithful; What Child Is This; Winter Wonderland; Silent Night; White Christmas.

Personnel: Tony Bennett: vocals; other musicians unidentified.

Messiah

Tracks: Messiah Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Personnel: Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury; Brandenburg Consort, Ray Goodman; Lynne Dawson: soprano; Hillary Summers: alto; John Mark Ainsley: tenor; Alastair Miles: bass; Crispian Steele Perkins: trumpet.


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