15

Steven Schoenberg: Christmas Reimagined

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Steven Schoenberg: Christmas Reimagined
Categorization is an anti-entropic effort to describe similar, but not equal, things for comparative reasons. So was my thinking when I began my review of pianist Steven Schoenberg's recording Steven Schoenberg Live: An Improvisational Journey (Quabbin Records, 2009) with:

"Like the face of Helen launching a thousand ships, for better or worse, Keith Jarrett's 1975 Koln Concert (ECM) inspired a like number of improvisational piano recitals (half of which were ultimately Jarrett's own) and the entire genre of "New Age" solo piano music. This spontaneous creativity is, at best an inspiration, and at worst, a bore."

This was my mostly failing attempt to provide potential listeners with an idea of what they were in for when they happened to spin Schoenberg's disc beneath the magic laser. I never intended "new age" as a pejorative, only a descriptor to provide context. New age and ambient music have their place and I have enjoyed many recordings classified as such.

But the trend, particularly in jazz and other improvised music, has been for finer and finer "genre" granularity, music that defies ready categorization. That said, I will refrain from such in describing Schoenberg's current recording Christmas Reimagined so inelegantly. Schoenberg takes on a repertoire so intolerant of poor presentation that lesser talents have clotted cut-out bins with their bathetic and often wholly contrived recordings. Not so with this recording.

What Schoenberg has accomplishes with Christmas Reimagined is a finely crafted history of piano performance using a sturdy, if unforgiving, body of songs as his vehicle. For instance, the opening "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is played with a Liszt left hand transcribing Schubert and a solid Bill Evans right, playing rhythmically crossways. "Carol of the Bells" is impressionistic and dynamically kinetic, with Schoenberg practicing a dramatic volume modulation. Here, Schoenberg approaches George Winston's sublime December (Windom Hill, 1990).

Schoenberg hits his stride with an all-American "Here We Come A-wassailing," where he begins tentatively, stirring in broad major chords full of the blues and church. His virtuosity swirls in this brief 1:39 song, a study in perfect arrangement and programming. "The Christmas Song" is busy with Schoenberg building cheer musically and dynamically, in an Oscar Peterson sort of way, were Peterson reined in by Gene Harris's good taste. "The First Noel" is delivered with the clarity preceding a dream while "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is sonically orchestral and closely intimate at the same time.

Schoenberg is an accomplished improvisatory pianist who is able to sit down and summon a lifetime of experience making it come to attention and order three minutes at a time. Christmas Reimagined is a collection of refined miniatures played with grace and humor.

Track Listing

We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Carol of the Bells; Here We Come a- Wassailing; Little Drummer Boy/Joy to the World; The Christmas Song; We Three Kings; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; My Favorite Things; Do You Hear What I Hear?; Auld Lang Syne; Angels We Have Heard On High; Silent Night; I'll Be Home For Christmas.

Personnel

Steven Schoenberg: piano.

Album information

Title: Christmas Reimagined | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Sonic Veil

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read Duplexity
Duplexity
John Blum and Jackson Krall
Read Now
Now
Lafayette Gilchrist
Read 25 Years
25 Years
Edward Simon
Read Splatter
Splatter
Roscoe Mitchell
Read Then Now
Then Now
Matthew Shipp / Rob Brown
Read Free Hoops
Free Hoops
Sylvie Courvoisier Trio

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.