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A Telarc Christmas: Two Helpings Of Festive Fare

Jim Santella By

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Two appropriately undemanding and thoroughly enjoyable albums to bring out the Christmas spirit. Christmastime Is Here is a specially conceived, orchestra and choir project. Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays is a various-artists compilation of previously released material.

Various Artists
Christmastime Is Here

Recorded in the main in 1999-2000, this collection of Christmas songs by orchestra and choir is rich in both seasonal atmosphere and musical quality. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers offer nothing but the very best.

The four guest singers—Ann Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, John Pizzarelli and Tierney Sutton—were recorded earlier this year. Each singer's track merges seamlessly with outstanding orchestral arrangements. Several selections by the Children's Choir from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts bring a gentle reminder of Santa's appeal and the deep, lasting effect Christmastime has on many of us.

Callaway sings "I Wonder As I Wander in a dramatic setting, while by contrast DeSare delivers "The Christmas Song with lightweight wishes for the holiday season. Sutton sings "I'll Be Home For Christmas light and pure (but in a wispy voice that gets rather swallowed up by the orchestra). For Jingle Bell Rock the Pops brings out its stellar Dixieland combo to celebrate, and then surrounds them with a big, festive production.

Pizzarelli closes the album with "Silver Bells. It's an appropriate and infectious finale, augmented by orchestra and choir for a stops-out performance that carries the season's message far and wide.

Various Artists
Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays

Recorded in the 1990s by top drawer, mainstream artists like saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, singer Mel Tormé and pianists Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing, this compilation offers up some great Christmas memories.

There is much to delight. Jim Hall, on solo acoustic guitar, brings us "O Tannenbaum," pulling some unexpected harmonic tricks out of his sleeve. Jeanie Bryson sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with real warmth. Kevin Mahogany sings "The Christmas Song, accompanied by guitarist Russell Malone and the Ray Brown Trio, in a wonderful, swinging mood. Guitarist Al Di Meola gets reverent with an impassioned, acoustic reading of "Ave Maria."

Brubeck, Peterson and Shearing offer several selections apiece, providing the album's meat and potatoes. Shearing's interpretation of "Donkey Carol" is probably the album's high point, with his ensemble taking us on an exciting rhythmic ride across the modern jazz horizon.

Tracks and Personnel

Christmastime Is Here

Tracks: Sing With Us Of Christmas; Precious Moments; I Wonder As I Wander; Christmastime Is Here; It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year; Silent Night; Little Drummer Boy; We Need A Little Christmas; Christmas Song; Caroling Fun; Jingle Bell Rock; I'll Be Home For Christmas; It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas; Silver Bells.

Personnel: Erich Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Dr. Michael Schwartzkopf & the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, Laurie Wyant & the Children's Choir from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, King's Singers, Ann Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli: vocals.

Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays

Tracks: White Christmas (Oscar Peterson); Christmas Time Is Here (Mel Torme); O Tannenbaum (Jim Hall); Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Jeanie Bryson/Kenny Barron); Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Dave Brubeck/Gerry Mulligan); Donkey Carol (George Shearing Quintet); Christmas Song (The Ray Brown Trio with Kevin Mahogany and Russell Malone); Christmas Waltz (Oscar Peterson); Away In A Manger (George Shearing); Silent Night (Dave Brubeck); Ave Maria (Al DiMeola); Farewell Jingle Bells (Dave Brubeck).

Personnel: Various Artists (see track listing).


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