Jazz at Lincoln Center Big Band Holiday concerts, featuring the JALC Orchestra with Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis and guests, are a welcome addition to New York City holiday jazz traditions. Big Band Holidays II presents the second set of live recordings from these concerts beginning from 2015, the year that the JALC Orchestra released their first Big Band Holidays set on their own Blue Engine Records label.
"Christmas brings the best and worst out of people," explains trombonist Chris Crenshaw in his booklet notes, "and we bring those feelings to fruition when we perform on the road and in New York City."
The most enduring snapshot from Holidays II is most likely Aretha Franklin's glorious "O Tannenbaum," first in English and then in the original German, accompanied only by her own pianoa rapturous snapshot of the regal gospel sound that was rarely far from the Queen of Soul's vocals.
How good is the JALC Orchestra on Holidays II? So good that Marsalis might not even be its best trumpet player. That honor on this set most likely goes to Marcus Printup, who opens the 19th-century spiritual "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" with the song of a heralding angel, downshifts into the grinding blues sound of "Old Man River," then swings out a mid-song solo as heavy as an elephant bearing an Oriental king. Marsalis' solos in the cheery opener certainly help keep "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" bright, and his blasts through several unaccompanied passages of Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall" encapsulate the stylish celebratory swing of his native New Orleans.
Holidays II captures arrangements and performances vibrant enough to overcome the familiarity of these holiday and gospel traditionals. Whether it's February or June or December, it's simply fantastic music.
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year; Cool Yule (featuring Catherine Russell); We Three Kings (featuring Denzal Sinclaire); O Tannenbaum (featuring Aretha Franklin); Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow; (Everybody's Waitin' for) The Man with the Bag (featuring Veronica Swift); What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin') (featuring Catherine Russell); Brazilian Sleigh Bells; Silver Bells (featuring Catherine Russell); Snowfall; Silent Night (featuring Denzal Sinclaire).
Sherman Irby: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Ted Nash: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Victor Goines: tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone, clarinet, shaker; Paul Nedzela: baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Camille Thurman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Marcus Printup: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Bruce Harris: trumpet; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw: trombone; Elliot Mason: trombone; Sam Chess: trombone; Eric Miller: trombone; Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: bass; Ali Jackson: drums; Marion Felder: drums; Charles Goold: drums; Aretha Franklin: vocals and piano; Catherine Russell: vocals; Audrey Shakir: vocals; Denzal Sinclaire: vocals; Veronica Swift: vocals; James Chirillo: guitar.