What would Christmas be without that familiar holiday sound scape of songs of yesterday? Well thankfully we will not have to find out, because jazz pianist Fred Hughes has released I'll Be Home for Christmas which is a set of 11 memorable classics that never grow old and will be a great addition to the holiday collection. What makes Hughes collection unique is his arrangements and hard swinging playing. The CD features Fred Hughes on piano, Amy Shook on bass and Frank Russo on the drums. Swinging selections like: "O Christmas Tree," "Let It Snow," "Jingle Bells," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," adorn this gem of a recording, with Latin versions of the classics like; "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas," and "The Christmas Song." A holiday offering would not be complete without the beautiful ballad, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." A funky version of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and two waltzes: "Silver Bells" and a slow straight eight version of "Silent Night."
Hughes plays each classic with a deep understanding of the jazz tradition and the right touch of elegance, coupled with a rhythm that resonates with a clear sense of time and direction. The trio seems to keep the spirit of Christmas in mind and brings the season alive with jolly greetings in their playing and interaction with one another. One of the many highlights include the stunning piano work on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Hughes really displays a command of the keys that is spectacular in his control of harmony and sense of time. Of course, my favorite part is his time sensibility, drive and clarity with each line building, offering clear articulation in a manner that makes musical sentences to create a complete story, outstanding work!
"O Christmas Tree" is given an excellent medium-hard swinging treatment with Hughes predominately playing the melody in a block chord fashion and the trio's time feel will get the toe tappin' right away. Shook and Russo keep things steady and moving forward as Hughes combines just the right amount of blues and bop to his swing language to make an impactful solo statement. Shook fingers a melodic solo that leads us to Hughes and Russo trading fours. The joy that the three seem to have when playing together comes through the music and really makes this the perfect backdrop to the meaning of the season.
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is beautiful. The attention to space and the subtle harmony really grabs the attention. Russo's brush work sets a perfect undercurrent and Shook's big woody sound pins the harmony as Hughes lyrical melody playing weaves in and out of luscious chords. Hughes solo continues the introspective theme and he does an excellent job of developing a theme through his solo statement. Hughes states the melody leading to a climax of big tremolo chords that are very effective in giving a clear arch to the piece. This is a wonderful version on this well-known classic Christmas favorite.
Hughes has a wonderful project here and it is highly recommended. The trio will provide that perfect musical backdrop to all your activates of the season in a stylish and elegant manner. This is an excellent jazz piano CD, full of Christmas standards that are played in anything but a "standardized" fashion. It swings, it relaxes and it is always done with a lot of style and taste.
Winter Wonderland; O Christmas Tree; Silver Bells; Let It Snow; Silent Night; White Christmas; Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town; The Christmas Song; Jingle Bells; I’ll Be Home For Christmas; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
Fred Hughes: piano; Amy Shook: bass; Frank Russo: drums.
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