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Holiday Roundup 2019

Mark Sullivan By

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An exceptionally large and diverse group of holiday albums this year.

Dave Stryker
Eight Track Christmas
Strikezone Records
2019

Prior to this album, guitarist Dave Stryker made three albums under the "Eight Track" moniker. As the title implies, they were all devoted to funky 1970s radio classics from sources like Motown, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Prince, as well as rock tunes from bands like Cream and The Zombies—using an organ trio plus vibraphone format common in soul jazz from that era. Eight Track III (Strikezone Records, 2019) was announced as a conclusion. But the band was having so much fun that they decided to make a Christmas album in the same style.

The core band is Stryker, organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter. They are joined by vibraphonist Stefon Harris (returning from Eight Track I & III), with vibraphonist Steve Nelson (from Eight Track II) in the vibes chair for one track. These are all Christmas songs, but the repertoire is just as varied as it was on the earlier Eight Track albums. Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" opens the set, and the contemporary selections also include John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Chistmas Time Is Here" (from the perennial Peanuts television show) and a very bluesy version of "Blue Christmas."

Traditional Christmas carols are well represented with "What Child Is This?," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Three Kings" and "O Tannenbaum." Leroy Anderson's composition "Sleigh Ride" is really a winter song, but it has become associated with the Christmas season ever since the Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal version in 1950. But the most fun track—and the one most fully representing the album's intentions—is "Soulful Frosty," a mash-up of Young-Holt Unlimited's soul classic "Soulful Strut" and "Frosty The Snowman." Any listener who fails to crack a smile when that soulful riff kicks in must be a Scrooge indeed.

Jazzrausch Bigband
Still! Still! Still!
ACT Music
2019

The Munich-based Jazzrausch Bigband has a tradition of Christmas Concerts. That makes this album a gift to longtime fans, as well as a swinging treatment of classic German Christmas songs. For English-speaking listeners only a couple of them will be familiar—probably "Still! Still! Still!" and "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night")— so there is the added attraction of hearing some fresh holiday music that is well established in other parts of the world. Vocalist Patricia Römer has a light, sweet voice— completely devoid of the bombast sometimes heard in big band singers—and is always swinging. "Engel auf den Feldern singen" (Shepherds in the Field Abiding) is an instrumental selection with a bluesy feel and brass writing reminiscent of trumpeter Herb Alpert. It features pianist Leopold Betzl and a trumpet soloist. "Macht hoch die Tür" (Make High the Doors) is another instrumental, this time featuring piano and saxophone solos. "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) becomes a feature for a flute and a finely nuanced drum solo.

The program closes with contrasts. "Fröhliche Weihnacht überall" (Merry Christmas Everywhere) is a boisterous calypso-style instrumental. "Süßer die Glocken nie klingen" (The Bells Ring any Sweeter) begins with a lyrical unaccompanied solo from guitarist Heinrich Wulff, who returns later for an overdriven solo after the arrangement has heated up. The album comes to a fitting close with a final statement of the tune with vocals and piano—joined by the band for a brief punctuation.

Echoes Of Swing
Winter Days at Schloss Elmau
ACT Music
2019

The German quartet Echoes Of Swing joins with veteran American singer Rebecca Kilgore for a seasonal program that largely avoids songs with an explicit holiday theme: the use of "winter" in the album title is entirely appropriate. So there are no Christmas carols, although the original song "The Three Wise Men" revisits traditional territory (but with a Middle Eastern tone). Classic winter tunes include Hoagy Carmichael's "Winter Moon," Irving Berlin's " I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," and "Winter Wonderland." "Snow" represents a more obscure Irving Berlin entry, "Looks Like December" presents a lesser-known Jobim bossa nova, and David Frishberg contributes "Snowbound."

There are several original tunes, some with a significant literary component. American poet Robert Frost's poem "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" gets an attractive setting; Shakespeare's "Sonnet 97" makes an appearance (also featuring beautiful acoustic playing by guest guitarist Rolf Marx) ; and English writer Emily Brontë is represented by "The Night Is Darkening Round Me." Kilgore contributed "It's Getting To Be That Time Of Year" (including a fine electric guitar solo) and co-wrote "Winter Days" and "The Three Wise Men." A spirited program that almost entirely avoids seasonal cliches.

Keb' Mo'
Moonlight, Mistletoe & You
Snakefarm Records
2019

Roots blues favorite Keb' Mo' presents his first Christmas album. He satisfies expectations for blues singing, but also goes into broader Americana territory. His version of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas" delivers a more optimistic mood than usual for the tune, a tone that suffuses the whole program. The title tune is buoyed by Gerald Albrights saxophone solo. "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" is electric blues all the way, while "Santa Claus Blues" goes acoustic.

"I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" finds him trading off with Melissa Manchester's sultry vocals. Koko Taylor's "Merry, Merry Christmas" manages to be both bluesy and cheery. But perhaps the most memorable track is Moore's humorous "Christmas Is Annoying," a sentiment that will unfortunately probably resonate with many listeners. With his rich voice Keb' Mo' sounds great even when he's complaining.

Peter Curtis
Christmas with Your Jewish Boyfriend
Bella Barktalk Records
2019

The subtitle of this collection is "Christmas music by Jewish songwriters," which turns out to be almost no limitation on the repertoire. In fact it is an enormous percentage of the Christmas songbook, as the selections here demonstrate. Guitarist Peter Curtis came up with a clever album title, and he backs it up with excellent unaccompanied chord-melody style guitar performances, enlivening some potentially overplayed seasonal songs.

"Winter Wonderland" opens the set on electric guitar, an active bass line underlying the melody and solos. "White Christmas" switches to classical guitar, a bossa nova feel refreshing the familiar melody. Most of the selections are under three minutes long—some two minutes or less—so the program moves right along. "Let It Snow" brings the electric guitar back for a sprightly romp, and gives "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" a rockabilly groove.

"Silver Bells" and "Christmas Time Is Here" from pianist Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts TV music feature pitch bending on the melody that could only come from either a pedal steel guitar or a guitar with a B-Bender installed. Either way, they provide an additional timbre to the program. On the title tune Curtis sings his humorous ode to interfaith holiday celebration ("On Christmas Day, I like to eat moo shu").

ChimyTina
A Very ChimyTina Christmas
Outside in Music
2019

Vocalist Martina DaSilva and double bassist Dan Chmielinski have adopted the name "ChimyTina" for their duet project. The focus is on voice and bass, but they welcome some of their closest friends and mentors as guests, including saxophonist Lucas Pino, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Ben Wolfe and guitarist Gabe Schnider .

DaSilva harmonizes with herself on "Greensleeves" to open the set. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" becomes a trio with Pino's saxophone. "The Christmas Song" is the core group again, this time with Chmielinsi adding a second bass part. "Last Christmas" finally gives us the duo, making it clear that they could have pulled off the whole program that way. The original "Diamonds and Pearls" has guitar assistance, and vibes make their appearance on "My Favorite Things," as well as on the closer "When You Wish Upon A Star."

This is a charming album. Rarely are these songs given such a light touch: it makes them fresh, and shows the performers in a good light.

Tracks and Personnel

An Eight Track Christmas

Tracks: This Christmas; What Child Is This?; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Happy Xmas (War Is Over); Soulful Frosty; Christmas Time Is Here; Sleigh Ride; Blue Christmas; We Three Kings; O Tannenbaum.

Personnel: Dave Stryker: guitar; Stefon Harris: vibraphone; Jared Gold: organ; McClenty Hunter: drums, percussion; Steve Nelson: vibraphone (10).

Still! Still! Still!

Tracks: Leise rieselt der Schnee; Still! Still! Still!; Engel auf den Feldern singen; Oh du fröhliche; Kling Glöckchen; Macht hoch die Tür; Schneeflöckchen; Stille Nacht; Morgen Kinder wird's was geben; Kommet ihr Hirten; Fröhliche Weihnacht überall; Süßer die Glocken nie klingen.

Personnel: Roman Sladek, director; Saxophones: Daniel Klingl, Bettina Maier, Raphael Huber, Moritz Stahl & Florian Leuschner; Trumpets: Christian Mück, Julian Hes-se, Michael Salvermoser & Julius Braun; Trombones: Roman Sladek, Thorben Schütt, Ramona Schwarzer & Robert Hede-mann; Rhythm section: Silvan Strauß, drums; Maximilian Hirning, double bass: Leopold Betzl, piano; Heinrich Wulff, guitar; Patricia Römer, vocals.

Winter Days at Schloss Elmau

Tracks:Winter Moon; Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; The Bell That Couldn't Jingle; Snowbound; Winter Wonderland; Snow; Looks Like December; It's Getting To Be That Time Of Year; Sonnet 97; Winter Days; The Night Is Darkening Round Me; The Three Wise Men.

Personnel: Bernd Lhotzky, piano & musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals; Henning Gailing, bass; Rolf Marx, guitar (4, 8, 9-10).

Moonlight, Mistletoe & You

Tracks: Please Come Home For Christmas; Moonlight, Mistletoe & You; Better Everyday; Santa Claus, Santa Claus; Christmas Is Annoying; Merry, Merry Christmas; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; Santa Claus Blues; When The Children Sing; One More Year With You.

Personnel: Keb Mo, vocals, guitar (4-8, 10), acoustic guitar (2, 9), electric guitar (3); Hollie Hammer, vocals (3); Jason Eskridge, vocals (3); Michael B. Hicks, vocals (3); Theron Thomas II, vocals (3); Ryan Middagh, baritone saxophone (10); Joe Reed, bass (2-4); Reggie McBride, bass (7); Steve Mackey, bass (1, 6, 8); Carole Rabinowitz, cello (2, 7); Chester Thompson, drums (2-4); Les Falconer, drums(7); Marcus Finnie, drums (1, 6); Neil Tufano, drums (5); Steve Jordan, drums (10); Neil Tufano, drum (10); Akil Thompson, electric guitar (1-4, 6, 8); Mike Pachelli, guitar (7); Christian McBride, electric upright bass (10); Scott Mulvahill, electric upright bass (5); Shelly Berg, grand piano (10); David Rodgers, keyboards (1, 6, 8), piano (2, 7, 10); Phil Madeira, keyboards (2-4), organ (3), piano (2); Michael B. Hicks, piano (3); Marcus Finnie, percussion (10); Alex Graham, saxophone & flute (10); Jovan Quallo, saxophone & flute (10); Evan Cobb, tenor saxophone (7); Tyler Summers, tenor saxophone (3, 7); Roland Barber, trombone (10); Roy Agee, trombone (3, 7, 10); Quentin Ware, trumpet (10); Steve Patrick, trumpet (10); Vinnie Ciesielski (3, 7); Betsy Lamb, viola (2, 7); Simona Ruso, viola (2, 7); Conni Ellisor, violin (2, 7); David Angell, violin (2, 7); David Davidson, violin (2, 7); Janet Darnall, violin (2, 7); Jenny Bifano, violin (2, 7); Kevin Winkelmann, violin (2, 7); Carter Moore, vocals (9); Melissa Manchester, vocals (7); The Children Of NIA House Montessori School, vocals (9).

Christmas with Your Jewish Boyfriend

Tracks: Winter Wonderland; White Christmas; I'll Be Home For Christmas; The Christmas Song; Let It Snow!; Sleigh Ride; Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer; Silver Bells; Santa Baby; Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree; The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year; Christmas Time Is Here; Christmas With Your Jewish Boyfriend.

Personnel: Peter Curtis: guitar, vocals.

A Very ChimyTina Christmas

Tracks: Greensleeves; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; The Christmas Song; Last Christmas; Diamonds and Pearls; You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch; Present de Natal; My Favorite Things; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; When You Wish Upon a Star.

Personnel: Martina DaSilva: vocals; Dan Chmielinski: bass; Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone; Gabe Schnider; guitar; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Ben Wolfe: bass.

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