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Album Review

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright


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Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright
After thinking for many years about producing an album of holiday songs, drummer Jeff Hamilton finally took the plunge in March 2021, recording with his trio the delightful Merry & Bright whose seasonal perspective is far more contemporary than traditional, with only one of its ten selections ("O Tannenbaum") predating the mid-twentieth century. The mood is for the most part temperate and easygoing, a charming showcase for Hamilton's superlative brush work and deft interplay by all hands.

Pianist Tamir Hendelman is tasked with supervising the melodic component, which he does with dexterity and finesse, while Hamilton and bassist Jon Hamar keep exemplary time. These are tunes that should be familiar to most Americans, as their presence during the holiday season is ubiquitous, and has been for some years now; many people may even know by heart the lyrics to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." And who can imagine a festive season without "Here Comes Santa Claus," "The Little Drummer Boy" (played here as a ballad/waltz), "Let It Snow!" or the Eartha Kitt classic, "Santa Baby" (taken at a sassy and highly appropriate tempo).

They're all here along with Kay Thompson's "It's the Holiday Season" and a brace of relatively lesser-known but no less enticing themes by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson, "Caroling Caroling" and "Bright Bright the Holly Berries." As played by Hamilton's trio, they form an ideal backdrop for any holiday gathering. "O Tannenbaum," the most deliberative item on the menu, is wonderfully played by Hendelman whose deft solo amplifies its character and beauty while setting the stage for the ardent finale, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," on which Haman's resonant bass plays a leading role.

Yes, it's true that Merry & Bright enfolds no time-honored hymns or carols (Hamilton chose the music based for the most part on childhood memories of seasonal family sing-alongs), but what is here is first-class—even without the help of Kitt, Andy Williams, Judy Garland or Gene Autry. If you admire these songs, you should love hearing them played by the peerless Jeff Hamilton Trio. Simply look past the jacket cover, which shows Hamilton, unsmiling, wearing dark glasses and garbed in an all-black turtleneck overcoat, bearing a closer resemblance to Darth Vader than Father Christmas. The music is far merrier and brighter than that.

Track Listing

It’s the Holiday Season; Caroling Caroling; The Little Drummer Boy; Let It Snow! Let It Snow!; Bright Bright the Holly Berries; It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year; Here Comes Santa Claus; Santa Baby; O Tannenbaum; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.


Jeff Hamilton: drums; Tamir Hendelman: piano; Jon Hamar: bass, acoustic.

Album information

Title: Merry & Bright | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Capri Records

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