Christmas I: Rain Drops on Roses...

C. Michael Bailey By

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After several years of artist-centered seasonal releases, Telarc continues down that path with Christmastime Is Here, and takes a new, compilation route with Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays.

Various Artists
Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays

Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays assembles a collection of previously released performances from past holiday packages. The collection is not a loud, frantic, partying affair, but rather a bit of a balm, featuring holiday favorites performed quietly and with uncommon expertise.

Pianists dominate the compilation. Two Oscar Peterson selections ("White Christmas and "Christmas Waltz ) are performed solo, giving tribute to both the season and Peterson's 60-plus years of impeccable technique and taste. George Shearing also has two selections, one with his quintet (a gently swinging "Donkey Carol ), the other solo (a crystalline "Away In The Manger ). Kenny Barron supports Jeanie Bryson on an ice-melting "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." Dave Brubeck does a jaunty duet with the late saxophonist Gerry Mulligan on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, before he delivers the disc's benediction with "Farewell Jingle Bells.

But piano is not all that is here. Mel Torme sings Vince Guaraldi on a warm "Christmastime Is Here and Kevin Mahogany joins bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Russell Malone for a festive take on Torme's "The Christmas Song. Two other guitarists lend their talent, with Jim Hall performing a starkly solo "O Tannenbaum and, two generations removed, Al DiMeola delivering an enigmatic reading of Schubert's "Ave Maria.

This is a carefully measured collection, thoughtfully brought together and perfect for the infrequent jazz buyer not wanting seasonal music by just one artist. Overall, these performers speak for themselves and require no introduction or apology. The holiday spirit is found here in a quiet glory.

Cincinnati Pops, Eric Kunzel And Special Guests
Christmastime Is Here

Where Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz For The Holidays mines previously existing music and carefully guides its themes toward the quiet and the contemplative, Christmastime Is Here offers quite the opposite. Erich Kunzel's Cincinnati Pops supplanted the Boston Pops on record years ago, and here confirms its supremacy in the field.

Kunzel emerges from the chute with a note perfect throwback to 1960s' Christmas variety shows with the medley "Sing With Us Of Christmas, presented by the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers (could anything be more festive or American?). Kunzel turns up the brass and the Choir adds the cheer. "What Child Is This rubs shoulders with its British cousins "The Holly And The Ivy and "Good King Wenceslas in an exuberant holiday spirit. This same format returns later with a powerful "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and "We Need aALittle Christmas from Mame, and "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. These large ensemble affairs perfectly capture that musical image of Christmas we have enjoyed the past two generations.

Kunzel reserves space in his recital for smaller performances. Ann Hampton Callaway's "I Wonder As I Wander is a beautiful juxtaposition of a simple Appalachian melody and lyric with the power of Kunzel's arrangement. The King's Singers Cambridge provide the finest performance of the disc with "Stille Nacht, sung in the original German. The honey-voiced Tierney Sutton is perfect for "I'll Be Home For Christmas, as is John Pizzarelli on "Silver Bells.

Christmastime Is Here is one of those ensemble discs that manages to be both nostalgic and contemporary. Anyone looking for music which expresses the hope and celebration of the holiday season need look no further than Christmastime Is Here.

Tracks and Personnel

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).

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; John Pizzarelli, King Singers, Ann Hampton Callaway, Tierney Sutton, Tony DeSare: vocals.


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