There are two broad categories of Jazz seasonal discs. One, represented well by Wynton Marsalis' A Crescent City Christmas Card (Sony Special Products 28812, 2002), Oscar Peterson's An Oscar Peterson Christmas (Telarc Jazz 83372, 1995), and Harry Allen's Christmas In Swingtime (Koch Jazz 51409, 2001) are serious, straight-ahead jazz offerings. These recordings will certainly appeal to all jazz fans but perhaps not to the uninitiated. At the other end of the spectrum are Kenny Gorelick's Miracles: The Holiday Album (Arista 18767, 1994), David Benoit's Remembering Christmas (GRP 9852, 1996), and Dave Koz's A Smooth Jazz Christmas (Capitol 33837, 2001), each which sold a sleigh-full of copies and appealed to listeners across all genre lines.
Framed like this one could surmise that this is a juxtaposition of mainstream, serious jazz against the backdrop of a more pop-oriented brand of jazz. One would be correct. Having listened to all with some measure of enjoyment and endorsement, this listener has been hoping for recordings that fall somewhere between the two. This type of holiday offering would be lush and attractive as the latter recordings are, yet challenging to the listener in places as the former recordings are. Trumpeter Chris Botti's holiday gift, December, pretty well fits this bill. There is a little something here for everyone.
First, this recording could have been entitled, "With Strings," making it similar to Scott Hamilton's recent holiday recording Scott Hamilton with StringsChristmas Love song (Concord Jazz 4771, 1997). The strings are tastefully arranged and provide Botti's warm open-bell tone with a plush foundation. Botti also sings. Much has been made in comparing Botti with another trumpeter/vocalist, Chet Baker. Botti's trumpet tone is full, demonstrative, friendly, and sexy. Chet Baker's tone was not. While neither is what I would call an outstanding singer, Botti does infuse his vocals with sincerity and warmth as experienced on Richard Marx's (who also produced the recording) "Perfect Day" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. His horn does the rest of the talking on a Bossa "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," a Crescent City "Walking in a Winter Wonderland," and a James Brown funky "Little Drummer Boy."
Botti is plaintive on "The first Noel" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." He plays these with feeling and empathy. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is a provocative duet with guitarist Heitor Pereira and recalls Messiah. The disc contains surprises also. In addition to the very appropriate "Perfect Day," Botti also covers Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" beautifully. Botti challenges us with "Drummer Boy" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." He soothes us with "the Christmas Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Each year, I give Holiday Recordings as gifts. This year, it will be Chris Botti's December.
Track Listing: Christmas Song; First Noel; Let It Snow; Hallelujah; Perfect Day; Santa
Claus Is Coming To Town; O Little Town Of Bethlehem; Walking In A
Winter Wonderland; Little Drummer Boy; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing;
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Silent Night; I'll Be Home For
Personnel: Chris Botti: trumpet, vocals; Billy Childs: keyboards; Anthony
Wilson: guitars; Bob Sheppard: saxophones, flute; Jimmy
Haslip: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums.
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