It’s a most wonderful disc...
Indiana-native Jennifer Stanley is a jazzy fresh breeze softly blowing in from the heartland. She follows her independently produced debut disc , Where I Want to Be, with a swinging holiday offering. Christmas is a collection of holiday standards presented in a jazz trio/quartet format with and without strings (a standard string quartet). The trio, manned by pianist Frank Puzzullo leading bassist Hans Sturm and drummer Dane Richeson, provide Ms. Stanley a solid and swinging foundation for her seasonal recital. Noted guitarist Tim Berens is also on hand for several pieces.
Ms. Stanley has an immediately engaging and accessible mezzo voice, strong in its high end and midrange. Her phrasing is crystalline and tasteful, devoid of excesses typical of many of today’s female jazz singers. Ms. Stanley prefers to present these holiday treasures in a conservative and mainstream manner rather than experimenting with any jazz vocal fireworks. This makes this recording an immediate recommendation for those who prefer their jazz confidently mainstream.
The disc opens with standard, but appealing "Winter Wonderland" and "A Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Ms. Stanley and her band are relaxed and strolling. Things begin to heat up and become interesting on the brilliantly off-time "Jingle Bells," where Ms. Stanley doubles her voice on the introduction, producing an original and attractive alternative to every other version one has heard this song. "What Child is This," based on a 16th Century English melody, carries the rhythmic lilt of John Coltrane’s 1961 recording on The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (GRP 232, 1997). Ms. Stanley approaches the melody as a waltz with some complicated vocalese that adds to the songs timeless appeal.
"The Christmas Song" is warm and inviting, like a fire on Christmas evening. The whole group is on hand for this Mel Torme classic, with Berens offering some tasty guitar filigree. The string quartet adds just the right amount of good cheer. "Silent Night" is reminiscent of Kathleen Battle’s treatment on Wynton Marsalis’ A Crescent City Christmas Card (Sony Special Products 28812, 1991), while being superior to that version because of the elegantly spare accompaniment provided by Puzzullo and the band. This spare accompaniment is true throughout the recording. Puzzullo and the band allow Ms. Stanley’s voice to breathe unencumbered, with all of the room necessary to convey her message. "Let it Snow" is bouncy, "Sleigh Ride" strolling and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" sleepy from Christmas dinner. In fact, this disc should fit in perfectly with Christmas dinner.
Truly central to the disc are "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman" and "Joy to the World." On the former, Ms. Stanley reminds us what the meaning of the season is, confidently and surely. It is fresh and vital to hear the "Good News" presented in such an original and reverent (well, reverent for jazz) fashion. "Joy to the World," whose theme was composed by George Frederic Handel, is the most daring of all of the interpretations here. I suspect that Handel would be tapping his foot in his Westminster Abbey grave.
Jennifer Stanley captures perfectly the spirit of Christmas with her fresh, wholesomely sexy voice, full of hope and praise—honor and joy, merrily proclaiming the true Reason for the Season.
Ms. Stanley's recordings may be purchased at www.jenniferstanley.com