3

The NOLA Players: Christmastime in New Orleans

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
As valuable as the Marsalis family is to the New Orleans jazz community, their creative presence is so dense that most music made in NOLA will be drawn into their sonic orbit. This is not a bad thing, but neither is a little heterogeneity. This is what makes The NOLA Players' Christmastime in New Orleans such a joy, because of its ability to stand up to such holiday musical pinnacles as A Crescent City Christmas Card (Columbia, 1989), Christmas Jazz Jam (Compass, 2009), and Big Band Holidays (Blue Engine Records, 2015). A solid addition to the jazz holiday discography to be sure.

The NOLA Players is an 18-member ensemble made up of musicians spanning every musical genre. These are musician's musicians who might be playing with the Philharmonic on Thursday, a jazz piano trio on Friday and an R&B throw-down band Saturday Night. It is this depth of musical experience that sets Christmastime in New Orleans apart from other big band holiday recordings. Central to this unique sound is pianist Mike Esneault, who arranged the baker's dozen-plus-one selections here. His is a steady creative and performing hand, pulling together a diverse, independent band of master musicians. Esneault's arranging possesses more than a whiff of Basie while still retaining all that the NOLA environment has to offer.

Esneualt's charts are delightful. "Silver Bells" and "Deck the Halls" are given a full and intricate treatment. Unlike many similar recordings, this collection sounds like jazz. Each release from the melody into the solo sections pop both featuring full-throated tenor solos as well as Esneualt's fine soloing. The clarinet in "Deck the Halls" is slick and light. Listening to these first two pieces might make the listener wonder where the NOLA is in the playing. That thought is put to rest in "Christmas in New Orleans." An entire history of New Orleans music emerges in just over five minutes revealing a score that is both dramatic and compelling. Drummer Geoff Clapp drops holiday bombs left and right making this disc hard to listen to and walk at the same time. It is a Christmas strut.

"O Christmas Tree" is played with a pastoral delicacy featuring piano, clarinet and full horn section. Arranged to emerge slowly, the piece hits its stride a brisk mid-tempo. One can Imagine "I Heard the Bells" as imagined by Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet. After a brisk "Joy to the World," the band adds water to the scotch, opening its bouquet fully into an almost post bop romp pitting Esneualt's piano against Charlie Dennard's organ. Featured prominently is Jason Marsalis' fine percussion playing. This is the most fully realized of a group of fully realized songs. The juggernaut of the collection is a reverent and churchy "Go Tell it on the Mountain." It is pure joy...as the entire release is.

Track Listing: Silver Bells; Deck The Halls; Christmas In New Orleans; O Christmas Tree; I Heard The Bells; Joy To The World; I Saw Three Ships; Holly And Ivy; Jingle Bells; Away In A Manger; Silent Night; Go Tell It On The Mountain; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.

Personnel: Mike Esneault: piano, arrangements; Jason Marsalis: vibraphone, percussion; Jim Atwood: vibraphone, band manager; percussion; Geoff Clapp: drums; Roland Guerin: bass; Bobby Campo: trumpet; Ashlin Parker: trumpet; Stephen Orejudos: trumpet; Terrance Taplin: trombone; Matt Wright: trombone, bass; B.J. McGibney: trombone, Charlie Dennard: organ; Mike Vila: guitar; Rex Gregory: reeds; Ray Moore: reeds; Tony Dagradi: reeds; John Reeks: reeds; Jason Mingledorff: reeds.

Title: Christmastime in New Orleans | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Verve Music Group


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Déjà Vu CD/LP/Track Review Déjà Vu
by Troy Dostert
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts CD/LP/Track Review Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Two in a Box CD/LP/Track Review Two in a Box
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Discussions CD/LP/Track Review Discussions
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard CD/LP/Track Review Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 19, 2017
Read Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio CD/LP/Track Review Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2017
Read "Skarkali" CD/LP/Track Review Skarkali
by Budd Kopman
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "Il Dodicesimo Nano" CD/LP/Track Review Il Dodicesimo Nano
by Jim Olin
Published: January 10, 2017
Read "Rebel Portraiture" CD/LP/Track Review Rebel Portraiture
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 12, 2017
Read "Moving Still" CD/LP/Track Review Moving Still
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 12, 2016
Read "Feather" CD/LP/Track Review Feather
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 22, 2017
Read "Through The Glass" CD/LP/Track Review Through The Glass
by Nicola Negri
Published: March 25, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.