Here are collections of seasonal fare, some old, some new, for your consideration this Holiday Season. Merry Christmas.
Christmas with Johnny Cash
(Columbia Legacy, 2003)
I suspect that there is no calculus by which we mere mortals may estimate the loss to our culture such as the passing of Johnny Cash. His voice was one that was distinctive for 60 years and influenced all associated with it. Alas, this is not his greatest album. Some of the pieces are not a perfect fit for the great Man in Black. But this is no matter, because as such, Mr. Cash made all of these pieces his own and he was not about to give them back. Mr. Cash is better on the narrative pieces than the singing ones. Cue up "The Christmas Guest" and understand that God was not available for the recording session, so Johnny Cash had to do it.
Seasonal Carols from Slovenia
(Naxos World, 2003)
This is the World Music offering for this year. Winter Kolednica is a collection of Slovenian carols sung in accustomed manner of the Slovenian homeland. Thusly, the music sounds rustic like genuine Shakers singing genuine Shaker Hymns. I cannot say that this is attractive music. It is emotionalhappy, solemn, and reverent, while all the time retaining a bona fide folk ambience. The music has a distinct Eastern European flavor with a hint of curry about the edges. This is a necessary listen for we uninformed Westerners to have at least some basic idea form where our own musical heritage came.
Long, Long Ago
(Guava Jamm, 2003)
Long, Long Ago is a weird little bird that takes advantage of addressing all of the holiday observances: Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanza. Lynette Washington's voice is durable and full-bodied as is her band. The disc is short (35:25) and consists of only six songs. However, this is not the standard fare and thus is justly interesting. The way to look at this recording is to pretend that Elvin Jones assembled a jazz band to play holiday music and the singer was a deft combination of Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and Neena Freelon. Produced by Ms. Washington, Long, Long Ago can (and should) be obtained from Guava Jamm Entertainment .
(MAXJAZZ Holiday Series, 2003)
The super-talented Eric Reed provides MaxJazz its first solo Holiday disc. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" tips its hat high to the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. Reed provides competent vocal delights on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Reed and his trio take a swinging spin with "the Christmas Song," "Little Drummer Boy," and "I Wonder as I Wander." He flies solo on "Lo, How a rose e're Blooming," "Christmas Blues," and "Adeste Fideles" (the latter on organ). This writer not-so-seretly hopes that Reed records a solo holiday disc - his talent is that big.
Christmas is Edward Gerhard's first holiday recording. The acoustic guitar and slide guitar master lends his considerable talents to a set of 14 well known Christmas carols; carols that he treats with tender loving are and a conservative father's gentle hand. The results are simply beautiful. "Good King Wenceslas," "Coventry Carol," and "O Holy Night" are splendidly cast in an acoustic folk vein. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is treated as a lullaby while "Pachelbel's Canon in D Major" is executed as a set of variations, a nice juxtaposition to George Winston's efforts. Gerhard has the chops the royally screw up these sacred pieces. Gratefully, he is a conservative man with a reverent vision.
On A Cold Winter's Night
Like Christmas, Gerhard's On a Cold Winter's Night is played with a creatively reverent and conservative flare. Separated from the previous holiday offering by seven year, On a Cold Winter's Night contains the same mix of the secular and choral, performed with deft precision that is not accomplished at the expense of warmth and genuine happiness. If the Fahey collection (below) is a bit to enigmatic for the average listener, I recommend this or both of Edward Gerhard's efforts. His arrangements are straightforward without being boring, and just creative enough not to sound experimental. Check out the Hawaiian "White Christmas" and the Christmas Medley of "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," "O come, All Ye Faithful," and "Jingle Bells."
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr.
Christmas With the Rat Pack
(Capitol Records, 2003)
?a-ring-a-ding-ding, baby! But It's all right now?Christmas With the Rat Pack is a gas, gas, gas. JFK was in the Whitehouse and the Chairman of the Board and his board members were tearing up the strip around the Sands in Las Vegas. This disc get my vote for the most fun Christmas release this year. No holiday season can be complete without Dino singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" or "I've got My Love to Keep Me warm" no matter how poor the arrangement is. Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. are predictable, and being so, offer the most complete entertainment package for even the fussiest of listeners. So light that cigarette and shake that martini and come let us adore Him.
The New Possibility
The New Possibility is the coupling of two previously released Fahey Christmas discs: The New Possibility (1968) and Christmas with John Fahey, Volume 2 (1975). Collectively, this disc is the king daddy of acoustic guitar Christmas collections. It is at once brilliant, quirky, sublime, and very strange. Reflecting the character of the performer, The New Possibility frames a perfect starkness and density in these holiday selections. The songs are played as if by itinerate minstrels sitting in a benefactor's front parlor. This set is essential because without it, there would have never been Tuck Andress, Ed Gerhard, Michael Hedges, or Leo Kottke. This disc is a must for all holiday music fans.
Michael PraetoriusChristmas Motets / Choral Concertos
(MDG Scene, 1996)
"Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" and "In Dulci Jubilo" are to of the best know pieces written by German choral composer Michael Praetorius (15711621). Praetorius was the son of Lutheran pastor whose choral settings were more often protestant than parochial. He was a contemporary of Claudio Monteverdi and a colleague of Heinrich Sch? Christmas Motets / Choral Concertos features Praetorius' well known "Joseph, Lieber Joseph Mein," "Psallite," and the aforementioned "In Dulci Jubilo." MDG's production is imppecible as expected with the sonics warm and clear. This is the Christmas Praetorius to beat.
Evening Prayers: Purcell Anthems and Sacred Songs
(Telarc Classical, 2003)
Evening Prayers: Purcell Anthems and Sacred Songs presents America's premiere choral group Chanticleer in company with the period-instrument ensemble Capriccio Stravagante for a program of Henry Purcell anthems and choral pieces. The choral performances are typically beautiful and the sonics, both vocal and instrumental are naturally warm. What does this recording have to do with the holidays? Outside of the obvious Christian connection, this disc has nothing to do with the holidays. It simply offers this writer the opportunity to highlight Chanticleer's other fabulous Christmas recordings featured in Christmas with Chanticleer .
The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Boogie Woogie Christmas
(Toy's Factory, 2002)
Here is a "Nutcracker" that smiles. Setzer and his guitar fueled band do Ellington Proud with a vibrant and fun Nutcracker Suite. But that is only where the fun begins. "Jingle Bells" is an Eddie Cochran rave-up with a big band as is "Sleighride." A low burn "Baby, It's Cold Outside," sung with Ann-Margaret is blissfully sexy and "Everyone is Waiting for the Man with the Bag" swings, swings, swings. The best performance is the big band hymn "O Holy Night." The French carol is sung as if by James Dean infusing the spirit of Elvis with Ray Coniff. A must have disc.
The Secret of Christmas
(Minnehana Music, 2003)
On Connie Evingson's recent superb release Let It Be JazzConnie Evingson Sings the Beatles , Ms. Evingson employs some of the most ingenious and engaging arrangements. She is back with a holiday offering that is the finest I have heard this year. Ms. Evingson opens her recital with Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall" coupled with "I Love the Winter Weather. "Carol of the Bells" is brilliantly preformed with lyrics by Evingson, allusions to "My favorite Things," and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." "The Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts" is at the crossroads of country gospel, jazz, and blues. "The Nutcracker Petite Suite" is a crowning achievement in vocal jazz.
This and all pieces published in December 2003 are dedicated to my late Father, Norman L. Bailey (1915-2003).