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It's easy to be jaded by the endless production of Christmas and New Year holiday recordings by jazz artists attempting to cash in on the shopping impulses of this time of year. It's also unfortunate that much of what is produced is simply spruced-up, dispensable noise.
Pianist Mark Kramer's "Jazz Greetings" is a rare exception. While Kramer does have a predilection towards popular themes, he is a fine jazz musician, and this album is a tasteful collection of traditional holiday songs where the emphasis is on jazz improvisation rather than holiday hype. Together with bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Jim Miller, along with special guest artists featured on a few tracks, Kramer artfully renders the tunes in a laidback, sensitive manner. Moreover, the recording quality is excellent.
The "déjà vu" aspect of this CD is that it is uncannily reminiscent of early, classic Bill Evans Village Vanguard trio recordings with Scott LaFaro or Eddie Gomez on bass and mostly Paul Motian on drums. Kramer is a devotee of the late, great Evans, and often works with Gomez. Fambrough and Miller, like Kramer, have Philadelphia roots and connections, and together they artfully recreate the impressionistic style of the Evans trios, with subtlety winning out over flashiness, and the kind of voicings, turns of phrases, and sonorities that made the Evans trios so absorbing and innovative.
This CD offers ideal listening for the peaceful interludes of the holiday season; an excellent choice for those who enjoy laidback and lyrical jazz music.
Track Listing: Greensleeves, Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Silent Night; I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas; We Three Kings; Deck the Halls; Walking in a Winter Wonderland; Christmas Time is Here; Hanukah Blessing- Hatikvah Medley; March of the Toys.
Personnel: Mark Kramer: piano; Charles Fambrough: bass; Jim Miller: drums; Omar Hill: percussion; Leslie Burns: flute.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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