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40 Years is a David Benoit project from start to finish. It is characterized by added production by the way of lush strings and horns. The engineering is impeccable and Benoit's piano is sharp and effective. Benoit provides compositions like "Just Like Me, a pleasant vehicle for Vanessa Williams and re-arrangements like Gerald Albright's take on "O Tannenbaum. Dave Koz is given alto saxophone reign on the famous Guaraldi composition, "Linus and Lucy, which is fully supported by Benoit's double-fisted pianism. Toni Braxton is assigned,"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, accompanied by guitarist Grant Geissman and, yes, David Benoit. The Rippingtons turn out a funky, understated "Red Baron. If smooth jazz ever needed a definition, I would point the inquiring mind to this recording.
Favored Nations Entertainment (the brainchild of Steve Vai) is heading in the direction of Narada and Windham Hill by issuing a Christmas disc highlighting the current talent the label has in its stable. Where FN departs the others is the broadness of its repertoire and artists. Andy Timmons works out "Greensleeves on gut-string with a light Latin accent. Johnny Hiland gives us a flatpicking cum Chet Atkins "Home for the Holidays, blurring genres with a half bluegrass half jazz organ trio performance. Adrian Legg begins "Jingle Bells as if on slide guitar before it becomes apparent that he is tuning and detuning selected strings, perhaps on a six string mixed with a twelve string. "Jingle Bells perfect captures the uniqueness of Legg's performance, shining a light on the rest of the artists. It is Greg Koch that brings in the slide guitar, playing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as if he were Robert Johnson performing with Le Hot Club du France. The Dillengers give a strange barrelhouse reading of "Run Rudolph Run, Mimi Fox swings through an engaging "Winter Wonderland. This is not the standard New Age acoustic holiday disc.
Guitarist Craig Chaquico puts on a brilliant smooth jazz performance on Holiday. The pieces chosen for this holiday fare are lightly and not so lightly accented with Latin rhythms and virtuosic guitar playing. Chaquico receives plush support from his band and guests, most particularly, multi-instrumentalist Bill Heller, who provide the guitarist razor sharp arrangements. The music most effective on this over all fine recording are the original compositions, the "Waltz Of The Winter Constellations, "Ashes Of The Fall / Winterflame / Embers Still Aglow and "Nonesuch / Ladies' Bramzel medleys. Craig Chaquico displays his mainstream and blues chops while never drawing the hard line on either. On the standard carols, "Angels We Have Heard on High and "Silent Night are uniquely arranged to demonstrate Chaquico's single string and chordal soloing. This is an exceptional recording. Please put down that tired Kenny G disc and try something new for a changeHoliday is it.
Okay, this one really does not belong here. Christmas Kaleidoscope is one of those discs that emits disparate musical influences like some kind of inventive radiation, leaving the listener (and critic) in an amnesia necessary to enjoy music properly...on its own terms. A fiddler, Polyakin, weaves multiple sources of music into his performances. "Let It Snow is a perfect cross between American swing and Le Hot Club du France. "My Favorite Things might have been heard at Rick's American during the war rather than the von Trapp's in pre-war Austria. In fact, stylistically, this recording is almost the perfect concept period recording not unlike what Uri Caine accomplished with his Wagner e Venezia recording.
Track and Personnel Listings
40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Christmas Is ComingDavid Benoit; Just Like MeVanessa Williams; Linus And LucyDave Koz; It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The YearToni Braxton; My Little DrumRick Braun; SkatingNorman Brown; Christmas Time Is HereBrian McKnight; O TannenbaumGerald Albright; Red BaronThe Rippingtons(featuring Russ Freeman); The Christmas SongChaka Khan; Fur EliseDavid Benoit; Christmas Time Is Here (Reprise)Eric Marienthal.
Favored Nations: Acoustic Christmas
GreensleevesAndy Timmons; Home For The HolidaysJohnny Hiland; Jingle BellsAdrian Legg; We Pray SanctusPeppino D'Agostino; God Rest Ye Merry GentlemenGreg Koch; Run Rudolf RunThe Dillengers; Winter WonderlandMimi Fox; Fodere L'AstronomePierre Bensusan; The 25th DayPete Huttlinger; Meditation From ThaisMarty Friedman.
Tracks: Angels We Have Heard On High; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Ashes Of The Fall / Winterflame / Embers Still Aglow; Jingle Bells / Jingle Bells (Slight Return); Silent Night; Every Day's A Holiday; We Wish You A Merry Christmas; White Christmas; Hark The Herald Angels Sing; Waltz Of The Winter Constellations; Nonesuch / Ladies' Bramzel.
Personnel: Craig Chaquico: guitar and a cast of thousands.
Tracks: Let it Snow; We Three Kings of Orient Are; 3. White Christmas; Largo from "Winter" of The Four Seasons; (Vivaldi) Little Drummer Boy; The Christmas Song; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; "Sheep May Safely Graze" (from Bach cantata); Ave Maria; Jingle Bells; Silent Night.
Personnel: Lev Polyakin: violin; Martha Aarons: flute, piccolo; Mike Petrone: piano; Martin Block: bass; Roy King: drums; Bob Frasier: guitar; Margarita Shevchenko: piano; Ellen De Pasquale, Takao Masame: violins; Robert Vernon: viola; Desmond Hoebig: cello; Thomas Sperl: bass; Steven Witzer: trombone; Zello Ahni: harpsichord.
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