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A Bold World Christmas: Sylvia Bennett, Eddie Allen, The Hot Club of San Francisco

C. Michael Bailey By

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Here is the middle of the road in holiday music. There is a little bit of something for everyone here: the contemporary caroling of Sylvia Bennett, the smart jazz of Eddie Allen, and the Django Reinhardt guitar tang of The Hot Club of San Francisco.

Sylvia Bennett

It's Christmas Time with Sylvia Bennett

Naxos

2009

Based on Sylvia Bennett's previous recordings, There Will Never Be Another You (Out of Sight Music, 2006) and Songs From My Heart (Out of Sight Music, 2008) It's Christmas Time with Sylvia Bennett is not exactly what might be expected. Instead of the traditional, Bennett expands her creative range with a very contemporary holiday offering bearing little resemblance with her previous recordings.

With high production values and liberal use of electronics, Bennett very capably performs both old and new seasonal favorites, some in surprising ways. Her gospel driven "Silent Night" is a delight. "Silver Bells" boasts a contemporary country treatment that is quite appealing. Bennett goes out on a long limb with a quasi-urban "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," sporting a rap by George Litzo. "Let it Snow" is definitely contemporary jazz, featuring Ed Calle's fine tenor saxophone. The collection is more successful than not and Bennett deserves kudos for her daring interpretations.

Listeners will stop short of accusing this of being jazz. It is a durable contemporary holiday treatment that will surely delight a wide mainstream audience. Bennett has emerged as a very fine singer and stylist who should take her music into unexpected places as she has with this Christmas collection.

Visit Sylvia Bennett on the web.

Eddie Allen

Jazzy Brass for the Holidays

Self Produced

2008

This independent offering by trumpeter Eddie Allen, Jazz Brass for the Holidays, emerges as one of the smartest arrangements of holiday classics in some long time. Perhaps the most striking element of this recording is contained in the arrangements. This is the closest thing to the arrangement standard set by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis with Crescent City Christmas Card (Columbia, 1989). Allen and fellow trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater flex their respective virtuosities on this recording, as do the remainder of this very fine band.

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" shimmers with the brassy counterpoint of Allen, Bridgewater, French horn player Marshall Sealy and trombonist Clark Gayton. The soloists show no fear in veering far from the time-tested melodies. This same counterpoint is applied to a 3/4 time "What Child is This." "Deck the Halls" sports a New Orleans march, while "O Holy Night" is cut angular from plush crimson velvet, allowing Sealy to carry the melody on the French horn while the trumpeters provide a provoking foil. "Go Tell it On the Mountain" is introduced with a brass quartet leading into a strolling swing full of the same Vieux Carre as "O Holy Night."

Allen's holiday book does not include any new offerings, instead staying with the tried and true. This is more than successful because of Allen's creative arrangements. The inclusion of a French horn recalls both trumpeter Miles Davis' Nonet and its earlier inspiration, the Claude Thornhill band as arranged by Gil Evans. Jazz Brass for the Holidays is as good a jazz holiday offering as can be hoped for.

Visit Eddie Allen on the web.

The Hot Club of San Francisco

Hot Club Cool Yule

Canadian Music Center

2002/2008

Hot Club Jazz is just the ticket for holiday music on Hot Club Cool Yule. The Hot Club of San Francisco renders acoustically impotent the bombastic electric offerings of Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra with the flick of a guitar pick and violin bow. Gratefully, authentic musicianship trumps even the best technique. Instead of one more anemic "White Christmas," the HCSF opt for a hot take on Duke Ellington's interpretation of "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" ("Sugar Rum Cherry") and Victor Herbert's "March of the Toys."

A medley of "Carol of the Bells" and Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" make a breezy way early on. A warm "Baby, Its cold Outside" features Duo Gadjo (Isabelle Fontaine and Jeff Magidson) and Evan Price on octave violin. The spiritual "I Wonder as I Wander" receives a very European string trio treatment very successfully by guest violinist Deborah Price, violist Marcel Gemperli and cellist Eric Gaensten.

Guitarist Paul Mehling shines in his solos on "I'll be Home for Christmas," "The Christmas Song," and "Auld Lang Syne. Evan Price's violin is given even exposure, the two men playing as if made for one another. This recording benefits from expert musicianship by musicians obviously having much fun, which simply adds to the joyfulness of a wonderfully lively disc.

Visit The Hot Club of San Francisco on the Web.


Tracks and Personnel

It's Christmas Time with Sylvia Bennett

Tracks: A Rainbow Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Silent Night; It's Christmas Time; Silver Bells; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Wrap You Up For Christmas; Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!; Christmas Lights; The Christmas Song.

Personnel: Sylvia Bennett: vocals; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Ed Calle: tenor saxophone; Hal Batt: guitar; Paul Harris: piano; Marcelo Azevedo: bass; Frank Derrick: drums; Astrid Pazmino, Donna Allen, Diane Williams, St. Rose of Lima Chorus, directed by Tiffany Ezekowitz: background vocals.

Jazzy Brass for the Holidays

Tracks: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; Go Tell It on the Mountain; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Away in a Manger; Frosty the Snowman Jingle Bells What Child Is This? (medley); Deck the Halls; Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!; We Three Kings; Good King Wenceslas/Cool King Wenceslas; The Little Drummer Boy; O Holy Night.

Personnel: Eddie Allen: trumpet; Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet; W. Marshall Sealy: French horn; Clark Gayton: trombone; Kenny Davis: acoustic Bass; Carl Allen: drums & glockenspiel.

Hot Club Cool Yule

Tracks: Cool Yule; Don Rodolfo; Carol of the Bells; I'll Be Home for Christmas; Baby, It's Cold Outside; Djingle Bells; Sugar Rum Cherry; I Wonder as I Wander; March of the Toys; The Christmas Song; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Auld Lang Syne.

Personnel: Paul "Pazzo" Mehling: solo guitar, baritone guitar, vocals; Clint Baker: string bass, trumpet; Evan "Zeppo" Price: violin, acoustic and electric octave violin; Jeff Magidson: rhythm guitar, bass, vocal; Jason "Jubilation" Vanderford: rhythm guitar. Guests: Isabelle Fontaine, The Cool Yule Philharmonic, Pazzo and the Hotheads, Le Jazz Hot Trio, Duo Gadjo, The Ivory Club Boys, The Cool Yule Philharmonic All-Stars.

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