Hammond-heads have a new reason to hail the holidays this season: Rhoda Scott's The Hammond Organ Of Christmas
, a collection of 17 classic yuletide tunes that combines French faire with African-American spirituals. Scott recorded most of the album in Paris in 1977 alongside drummer Bill Elliott. But two tracks feature Houston Person on tenor saxophone, Steve Phillips on drums and percussion, and Scott's deep, finely textured voice.
As a minister's daughter, Scott elicits a natural spirituality in her music. But instead of the traditional sound of the pipe organs heard in most churches, her Hammond gives these Christmas takes a funky edge. And though most of the disc was recorded over two decades ago, pop culture's nostalgia for bygone times increases the album's allure.
The song order reflects the progression of the season. Starting with light, spirited tunes like "Jingle Bells" and "The Little Drummer Boy," Scott leads into holiday preparations. Saks Fifth Avenue unveils its holiday windows, we hang the mistletoe...
A sense of quiet adoration develops as Scott moves into more spiritual songs. Each note of "Ave Maria" – the traditional African-American spiritual, and the John Jacob Niles version that comes later – heralds the Lord's birth, and honors his mother, with thick, long, organ tones. Envision glowing candles illuminating elaborate nativity scenes at midnight mass.
Finally, with the organ's heavy vibrato, drummer Bill Elliot's celebratory beat of the cymbals, and a ring of the bells, the day we've been waiting for has arrived, "C'est Noel." Time to party. The traditional Appalachian carol "I Wonder As I Wander" evokes strong images of individual amazement and personal glee. Scott alternates the reflective melody with bouncy, delighted chords. She sings on "Everytime I Feel The Spirit," joining her organ with Person's saxophone and Phillips' drums. The fun has definitely begun, and it's time to go for a stroll in a "Winter Wonderland."
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York
Personnel: Houston Person - tenor sax;
Rhoda Scott - organ , vocals;
Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra - percussion, drums;
Steve Phillips - percussion, drums.