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In a year when the best-selling holiday music will likely be represented by the whorehouse that is the Trans-Siberian Orchestraspecifically The Christmas Attic, chocked full of Keith Emerson's left over arrangements from 45 years ago merged with 1980s Steve Vai and called "art"there is credible and well-crafted holiday music being made. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Joey DeFrancesco serves up a tasty holiday dish from that most venerated of soul-jazz instruments, the Hammond B3 Organ.
Holiday music has been part of the jazz repertoire since the advent of sound recording. Swing is swing no matter what the vehicle is. However, holiday music is a demanding mistress who will deliver agony is mistreated. Fortunately, DeFrancesco, approaches the music with the necessary mirth, gratitude and sense-of-humor to assemble a thoughtfully considered collection of holiday fare. Divided between two CDs is music DeFrancesco labels "The Party" (secular) and "The Tradition" (sacred).
What DeFrancesco accomplishes is a curious mix of greasy, chitlin' circuit funk-jazz and nostalgia-laden Lawrence-Welk squeaky-clean dance music. "The Party" hosts the hard bop of Frank Sinatra's "Mistletoe and Holly," its coals stoked by Jerry Weldon's tenor saxophone. The title cut is a '60s TV soul-jazz soundtrack featuring guitarist Jeff Parker. "Baby Its Cold Outside" is a sexy instrumental conversation between DeFrancesco and Parker. DeFrancesco turns his attention to the piano for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." He telegraphs the piano to a Caribbean "I'll be Home for Christmas" with an "As Time Goes By" teaser in the beginning.
DeFrancesco sings a collard greens and ham "Merry Christmas Baby" providing his own tasty trumpet playing. "Blue Christmas" is sung to a New Orleans roll, DeFrancesco again on piano. "The Tradition" is reigned in, but not at the expense. "Joy to the World" is played model like Miles Davis' "Milestones" opening the free range for soloing. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is all Saturday night, warmed by your grandparents' floor furnace watching LW on the black and white. De Francesco summons the church in a gentle "Away in the Manger" that smells of frankincense and myrrh. More church issues with a sublimely understated "O Holy Night" concluding the most intelligently conceived holiday recording this year.
Track Listing: CD1 – The Party: Mistletoe and Holly; Home for the Holidays; Baby It’s Cold Outside; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; The Twelve Days of Christmas; What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?; Christmas at 3 a.m.; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Santa Clause is Coming to Town; The Christmas Song; Merry Christmas Baby; I’ll Be Home for Christmas; Blue Christmas. CD2 – The Tradition: Joy to the World; O Little Town of Bethlehem; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; We Three Kings; O Come All Ye Faithful; Silent Night; What Child is This; Away in the Manger; The First Noel; O Holy Night.
Personnel: CD1: Joey DeFrancesco: organ, trumpet, vocals; Jeff Parker: guitar; George Fludas: drums; George Coleman, Jr.: drums (6, 10); Ramon Danda (5, 12); John Webber: bass (4, 13); Tony Banda: bass (5, 12); Jose Rodriguez: percussion (5, 12); Steve Wilke3rson: flute (5); George Coleman, Sr.: tenor saxophone (6, 10); Jerry Weldon: tenor saxophone (1, 13). CD2: Joey DeFrancesco: organ, trumpet; George Fludas: drums; John Webber: bass (6); Jerry Weldon: tenor saxophone (6).