The Putumayo World Music compilations have achieved an enviable brand status with their wide-ranging stylistic variety and the distinctively cheerful covers by artist Lisa Gonzalez.
The latest entry, Putumayo Presents Jazz Christmas
joins previous entrants Putumayo Presents New Orleans Christmas
(2007) and Putumayo Presents A Jazz & Blues Christmas
(2008) in offering collections of holiday-themed entrants in a jazz vein.
As with all of its jazz releases, Putumayo founder and curator Dan Storper's taste in jazz runs toward traditional New Orleans and straight-ahead pianists. This outing sticks fairly closely to that pattern. The New Orleans vibe is represented by previous Putumayo participants Lars Edegran and Papa Don Vappie, along with the relatively obscure Dixieland Ramblers
. The pianists include Oscar Peterson
, Tom Grant
and Chad Lawson
. Adding a few wrinkles (as Storper always does) are tracks by blues / R&B singer Charles Brown
and soul jazz saxophonist Houston Person
Grant's sparkling supper club arrangement of "Winter Wonderland" opens the collection. An underknown and underappreciated player in the mold of Tommy Flanagan
, Grant's playing is ornate without being busy, and the heart of the melody is always front and center.
The Dixieland Ramblers then tackle Mel Torme
s timeless "The Christmas Song" in a fairly straight ahead piano trio approach, led by the uncredited pianist. (As with most Putumayo releases, the liner notes are rich in platitudes, and a bit thin on the sorts of details jazz fans are used to).
The piano-centric approach continues with Lawson's rendition of "Angels We Have Heard On High," played at a somewhat relaxed pace. The liner notes indicate Lawson is from North Carolina, and his songs have graced several TV soundtracks and advertising campaigns. Here he shows a light touch, with his uncredited bassist and drummer providing a subtle backdrop.
Peterson's swinging take on "Let It Snow" is from his 1995 Telarc Records outing, An Oscar Peterson Christmas,
and features Dave Samuels
on vibes. While Samuels is best-known for his time in smooth jazz combo Spyro Gyra
, he established his jazz bona fides in Gerry Mulligan's early 1970s combo, and he later backed guitarist Pat Metheny
. Here, he and Peterson trade leads as seamlessly as Nat King Cole
and guitarist Oscar Moore
once did, perfectly in sync with one another.
The collection begins its shift toward a New Orleans approach on the Dixieland Rambler's second track, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," which opens with the pianist laying out the theme before the trombone takes the second verse and carries it forward.
Person's soulful reading of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" finds the melody more hinted at than explored. Mike Renzi
's percussive piano plays opposite Jay Leonhart
's lead double bass, with Grady Tate
steady as always on the drum kit. Person is apparently sitting this track out, even though it's taken from his 1994 release, Christmas with Houston Person and Friends
. (All the sideman info was taken from that album, not the Putumayo collection.)
But Person is front and center on tenor sax on "Blue Christmas," which gets a slowed-down and very Crescent City-like arrangement.
Lars Erdegran and his combohere renamed the Santa Claus Revelerstackle "Christmas In New Orleans" with the late Big Al Carson on vocals. On a song made famous by Louis Armstrong
, this version is played about 25 percent faster, and takes more of an ensemble brass band approach.
Papa Don Vappie's New Orleans Jazz Band opens "Silver Bells" pretty close to Andy Williams
' iconic version before breaking out into a Big Easy-styled vamp.
The late Charles Brown, whose "Please Come Home for Christmas" remains a staple of many a holiday play list, closes out this collection with his New Year's ode, "Bringing In a Brand New Year" from his 1994 "Cool Christmas Blues" release. It's more downtempo R&B than jazz, although his signature sound on piano is as much jazz and blueshe was one of those rare true crossover artists whose music embraced both jazz and blues simultaneously.
This is a fun collection, with both recognized names and, for many listeners, some new ones as well. Few of these songs are considered definitive, and thus retain a freshness that too much holiday music can lose through overexposure.
Winter Wonderland (Tom Grant); The Christmas Song (Dixieland Ramblers); Angels We Have Heard on
High (Chad Lawson Trio); Let It Show (Oscar Peterson); I'll Be Home for Christmas (Dixieland Ramblers);
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman (Houston Person); Blue Christmas (Houston Person); Christmas In New
Orleans (Lars Edegran and His Santa Claus Revelers); Silver Bells (Papa Don Vappie's New Orleans Jazz
Band); Bringing In a Brand New Year (Charles Brown).