Aural Brandy Eggnog...
Rebecca Parris slips into the opening "Silver Bells" like it was a plush and cozy mink coat tailored especially for her. Her sumptuously virile alto voice coaxes visions of bustling Christmas Eve sidewalks beneath a gentle snowfall while skating over a light Latin groove established and maintained by her working trio of pianist Brad Hatfield (or George Mesterhazy), bassist John Lockwood (or Peter Kontrimas), and drummer Matt Gordy. This heady highball Ms. Parris mixes throughout her very festive new holiday recording, The Secret of Christmas.
A Boston treasure, Ms. Parris has been performing since age six when she joined her father to sing in locally produced musicals. She has been actively recording since 1985, when she debuted with Live at Chan's on her independent label Shira. Since then, Ms. Parris has recorded on several labels, including Musicmasters ( Spring, 65076, 1993), A Beautiful Friendship (Altenburgh, 0019, 1995), and Koch Jazz ( My Foolish Heart , 7887, 2001). She appears in venues throughout the United States and abroad.
On the present offering, Ms. Parris fulfills her lifetime desire of recording a holiday album with the sophisticated and sassy panache listeners have come to expect from her. She chooses an eclectic set of standard and not-so-standard seasonal treats that warm with the spirit of the holidays. The permeating character of the recording lends much to a light Latin sensibility. Afro-Cubano rhythms imbue "Silver Bells," "White Christmas," and "Silent Night." This Latin personality in this trio of performances is accentuated by flautist Mike Monaghan, who also lends his considerable talent to the rocking "Winter Wonderland," where his double-time playing amazes. "Christmas Time is Here" is offered both as a lilting samba and a warmly sensuous ballad, affording two wonderfully juxtapose approaches to the same piece.
Trumpeter and educator Herb Pomeroy is on hand for "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and a playfully sexy "Baby, It's Cold Outside." In the latter piece, Ms. Parris empathetically shares duet duties with vocalist Paul Broadnax in the most playfully sexy version of this classic I have heard since Ray Charles and Betty Carter made love with it in the 1960s. Fred Haas provides his individual tenor treatment to "Let It Snow," Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "Baby, It's Cold Outside," kissing each piece as vermouth kisses a martini.
The fulcrum of the recording is Ms. Parris's "We Three Kings." Ms. Parris sings the carol with what can only be described as confident zest and pleasure. In each chorus, she becomes more successfully daring and triumphant, scaling the heights of improvisation and exploration, revealing the hidden messages of the story, while never making a parody of it.
If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then my summation of this disc is it has all of the characteristics of a fine brandy-filled snifter warmed over the open flame of the Season. Rebecca Parris's voice never fails to fill one's head with the warmth and glow of the Spirit. Merry Christmas!
Copies of the Secret of Christmas
may be purchased at Marblehead Jazz
Personnel: Rebecca Parris: Vocals; Brad Hatfield, George Mesterhazy: Piano; John
Lockwood; Peter Kontrimas: Bass; Matt Gordy: Drums; Fred
Haas: Tenor Saxophone; Mike Monaghan: Flute; Herb
Pomeroy: Trumpet; Paul Broadnax: Vocals.