Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

378

Carla Bley: Carla's Christmas Carols

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Carla's Christmas Carols? For many, the idea of their favorite jazz artist releasing an album of seasonal songs usually smells of crass commercialism or pure pandering, but leave it to pianist/composer/arranger Carla Bley to produce an album that's as reverentially in the spirit of the season as it gets, while being musically deep enough to fit within her substantial discography with complete relevance.

And it is reverential. Accompanied by longtime partner, bassist Steve Swallow, and the German Partyka Brass Quintet, Bley's contrapuntal arrangement of the opening "O Tannenbaum" begins literally and beautifully; if ever there was music to evoke images of sitting in a comfortable chair by the fire, on a cold, snowy winter's night, this is it. Yet, as it nears its end, a series of cascading lines gradually coalesce to an augury, jazz-centric harmonic close. "Away in a Manger" is equally touching, with a chimes melody leading to Swallow's familiar theme. Bley's arrangement is feather-delicate, as individual instruments move to the forefront only briefly, all supported by her spare but definitive accompaniment. Swallow, always a masterful improviser with eyes and ears on a song's melody, solos here with tender lyricism and a soft, cushiony tone as, gradually, the music turns Phrygian.

While others look for obscure Christmas tunes to lend themselves identity, Bley's choices are as conventional as they come—"The Christmas Song," "Ring Christmas Bells," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Jingle Bells" are but four of the twelve tunes that are so familiar as to be nearly Jungian. Still, this is Carla Bley, one of the great arrangers of the past half century, and her arrangements manage to tread the fine line between veracity and expansive, personal interpretation. There's no mistaking the "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" melody of "The Christmas Song" but, while avoiding any "jazzin' up Christmas" schtick, Bley makes this an unequivocally jazz album, as flugelhornist Axel Schlosser lays down some bop-inflected lines during his solo.

The majority of the tunes are relatively brief (under six minutes), and the arrangements are taut, but Bley does leave room for soloing throughout, albeit well- integrated into her detailed charts. There's room for swing, too, but in a 5/4 fashion during Schlosser and trombonist Adrian Mears' solos on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlement part one," where Bley rhythmically references Paul Desmond's iconic "Take Five." "part two" is initially darker, Satie-like in the simplicity of Bley's piano before Swallow enters and brings back the swing for a solo from Bley that's indicative, as ever, of implicit taste that transcends virtuosic concerns.

Most Christmas albums are only good for a limited time each year. The songs Bley has chosen may have such iconic significance as to be tied to a specific time of year, but the arrangements and playing are so good that Carla's Christmas Carols transcends the season for which it's intended; an album that will also bring more than a little welcome cool to the heat of the summer.

Track Listing: O Tannenbaum; Away in a Manger; The Christmas Song; Ring Christmas Bells; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen part one; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen part two; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; Hell's Bells; Jesus Maria; Jingle Bells; O Holy Night; Joy to the World.

Personnel: Carla Bley: piano, celeste; Steve Swallow: bass, chimes; Partyka Brass Quintet: Tobias Weidinger: trumpet, flugelhorn (lead), glockenspiel; Axel Schlosser: trumpet, flugelhorn (soloist), chimes; Christine Chapman: horn; Adrian Mears: trombone; Ed Partyka: bass trombone, tuba.

Title: Carla's Christmas Carols | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Watt/ECM


Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Music in the Room CD/LP/Track Review Music in the Room
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 10, 2017
Read Of Light and Shadows CD/LP/Track Review Of Light and Shadows
by Phillip Woolever
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven CD/LP/Track Review Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven
by Doug Collette
Published: December 9, 2017
Read The Chicago Blues Box 2 CD/LP/Track Review The Chicago Blues Box 2
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 9, 2017
Read I Speilvendthet CD/LP/Track Review I Speilvendthet
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Book Of Sound CD/LP/Track Review Book Of Sound
by Gareth Thompson
Published: December 8, 2017
Read "Dedication" CD/LP/Track Review Dedication
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: July 15, 2017
Read "Flow" CD/LP/Track Review Flow
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: November 20, 2017
Read "Morning Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Morning Sun
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 18, 2017
Read "Vintage Christmas Trio" CD/LP/Track Review Vintage Christmas Trio
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 3, 2017
Read "Ready Take One" CD/LP/Track Review Ready Take One
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "Strykin’ Ahead" CD/LP/Track Review Strykin’ Ahead
by John Kelman
Published: September 2, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!