Those who purchase a Christmas album are mainly looking for festive music suitable for decorating the tree or baking cookies and not an introspective, challenging listening experience. Thus an artist who records such a record must take into account what the audience wants to hear and not his own musical aspirations, which may be why Mingus and Miles never recorded one. Ramsey Lewis, however, is the perfect guy for such a task, since he always approached playing jazz from the standpoint of creating a catchy hit with the public rather than arty noodling. Although recorded in 1961, a few years before he hit it big with "The 'In' Crowd," he still can swing harder than most at this early stage.
Lewis and his trio barrel through the first five songs with a healthy dose of jubilant bounce and a penchant for uncovering the unexpected blue notes in carols. He glides through "Winter Wonderland" with heavy, funky chords and a propulsive snap but takes a more reverent approach on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," a slow, gospel-tinged treatment.
The latter half of the album adds a string section (which fortunately doesn't oversaturate the music with glitz like on other Christmas albums) and Lewis tinkers around with the celeste a little bit here. "The Sound Of Christmas" is one of the most euphoric songs, a cascading wash of strings and bells awash with the glee of holiday tunes. While Lewis deserves most of the credit, Eldee Young and Redd Holt also deserve an extra candy cane for providing such enthusiastic support.
Simply put, this is one of the most flat-out fun jazz Christmas albums you'll find. Lewis avoids the overly reverentno "Silent Night" or "What Child Is This?"in favor of songs he can tear through with the brisk gait of a sleigh ride and the delight of a full stocking. Lewis was later criticized for his eagerness to land on the charts, but his sensitivity to the tastes of the public served him well here.
Personnel: Ramsey Lewis - piano; Eldee Young - bass; Redd Holt - drums; string section on 6-10.