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The U.S. Army Blues: Swinging In The Holidays

Dan Bilawsky By

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Many a Christmas album plays the role of aural security blanket, serving up gently nostalgic sentiments to soothe the common man. This isn't one of them. The U.S. Army Blues—the big band outgrowth/offshoot of The United States Army Band "Pershing's Own"—ushers in the holiday season with an exciting set that's more well-oiled romp than relaxing balm.

Over the course of fifteen numbers this tight outfit delivers with might and flight. SGM Craig Fraedrich's arrangement of Leroy Anderon's timeless "Sleigh Ride" opens the album with flag-waver attitude before settling in behind SGM Christal Rheams' vocals, an "O Holy Night" in five takes a straight-eighth approach and leans on spruced-up harmony, and "Jingle Bells" shines a light on the low brass, as SFC Victor Barranco steps out front for a memorable trombone spot. Hanukkah even has its place in the mix—SSG Michael Kramer's "Five Sided Dreidel" blends weight and humor while showcasing SFC Antonio Orta's soprano saxophone work—but Christmas is king.

While large group fire and original twists on holiday staples both remain central to this program, The U.S. Army Blues does thin its ranks at times and nod toward Stan Kenton's legacy. An octet dubbed Swamp Romp brings some Crescent City swagger and Dixieland delight into the picture with back-to-back winners "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Christmas In New Orleans," and two men with mellophones make an appearance, supplanting the saxophones on four numbers plucked from the band's Kenton Christmas book.

In one place this crew may be grafting gospel tidings and an "All Blues" bottom onto a well-worn chestnut, and in another it may be creating a seasonally-appropriate blend of Claude Thornhill and John Lewis. There's little that these musicians can't do or won't try in the name of creativity and swing. With fine arrangers, stellar soloists, and solid team players in the ranks, everything fires straight, strong, and clean on Swinging In The Holidays.

Track Listing: Sleigh Ride; O Holy Night; Jingle Bells; Five Sided Dreidel; Christmas Time Is Here; My Favorite Things; Santa Baby; Silent Night; I’ll Be Home For Christmas; Christmas In New Orleans; Snowfall/Skating In Central Park; Big Bad Drummin’ Dude; Greensleeves; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Blue Christmas.

Personnel: SFC Antonio Orta: saxophone; SFC Bill Linney: saxophone; MSG Joseph Henson: saxophone; SSG: Xavier Perez: saxophone; SGM Dave Brown: saxophone; SFC Mark Wood: trumpet; MSG Ken McGee: trumpet; MSG Graham Breedlove: trumpet; SGM Kenny Rittenhouse: trumpet; SGM Craig Fraerich: trumpetSGM Matt Niess: trombone; MSG Harry Watters: trombone; SFC Victor Barranco: trombone; MSG Jeff Cortazzo: trombone; SGM Tony Nalker: piano; SSG Michael Kramer: guitar; SGM (Ret) Jim Roberts: guitar (7); MSG Steve Fidyk: drums; SFC Regan Brough: bass; SGM Christal Rheams: vocals; SGM Gil Hoffer: mellophone; SFC Aaron Cockson: mellophone.

Title: Swinging In The Holidays | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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