The best kinds of holiday albums are the ones that offer a diverse selection of songs while holding true to the theme. Pianist Eric Reed's new Christmas disc Merry Magic combines hard-swinging bebop with slow, graceful ballads, a little Latin spice, and evangelical organ. It culls up all the emotions of the season, from childlike anticipation to family-time nostalgia.
Play this disc at your holiday party if you're going for the martini and mistletoe deal you see in those movies from the '50s. The guys show off their shiny new cuff links, and the gals layer up the crinoline. The album starts off on a feisty note with the gleeful "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Steve Nelson's vibes add extra shimmer to Rodney Green's sleuthing drums, Barak Mori's swaggering bass, and Reed's irresistible keys.
Five of the thirteen tracks feature vocals. Reed plays piano and sings on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," but the slow rendition gives the much-loved Christmas carol a gloomy disposition. Perhaps he should have reserved his gracious vocals for something more mature. Paula West sings the adorably seductive "Santa Baby" in merengue style. And in a more innocent tone, Erin Bode lends her precious voice to "I Wonder As I Wander" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." It's the kind of voice one might categorize with cashmere sweaters and cultured pearls ' luxurious and timeless.
Songs like "Winter Wonderland" and "Little Drummer Boy" feature such dynamite improvisation that you forget you're listening to a Christmas album until the group returns to the chorus. Reed's original tune "Angels In The Snow" fits into this group, with its cozy phrases and shimmering chords. Midway through the disc, "The Christmas Song" oozes with the thick, sweet texture of a carefully prepared chestnut puree. Clear out a little bit of space for dancing after dinner.
Track Listing: 1. God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman (Traditional) - 5:57
2. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Coots/Gillespie) - 4:23
3. Winter Wonderland (Bernard/Smith) - 6:05
4. Angels in the Snow (Reed) - 4:37
5. Santa Baby (Javits/Springer/Springer) - 3:15
6. Low, How a Rose E'er Blooming (Praetorius) - 2:05
7. The Christmas Song (Torm?/Wells) - 3:56
8. Little Drummer Boy (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) - 4:08
9. Oh Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles) (Wade) - 1:45
10. I Wonder as I Wander (Niles) - 3:19
11. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? (Loesser) - 4:56
12. Christmas Blues (Cahn/Holt) - 4:25
13. After the Holidays (Meyer) - 4:33
Personnel: Paula West - vocals;
Steve Nelson - vibraphone;
Rodney Green - drums;
Erin Bode - vocals;
Eric Reed - piano;
Barak Mori - bass.