Off The Beaten Path. Each year, I seek out new holiday music, usually in the jazz and classical realms. There have been several notable releases this year, including offerings by the Nagel-Heyer bunch and Cyrus Chestnut, among others. However, the music that immediately captured my attention this season I found being sold at a local holiday goods offering by the artist himself. I found the artist, Steve Barta, studied and urbane...like I was to find his music.
The Artist Formerly Known As... Steve Barta is a Colorado Springs-based pianist-composer who has been releasing recordings on his Source Music label for the last several years. A longtime associate of flautist Herbie Mann, Barta has released a variety of jazz and seasonal recordings, and returns to the latter genre with Herbie Mann on The Twelve Days of Christmas. Supported by his working trio members, Kim Stone and Ronnie Shaw, and augmented by Mann and Don Griffin on guitar, Barta follows up two exceptional solo piano holiday discs ( That Christmas Feeling and Noel ) and a multicultural extravaganza ( Christmas Around The World ). Twelve Days is the most overtly jazzy of Barta's holiday releases, and that is what makes it so fun.
Mr. Barta employs an exquisitely soft touch and sensibility while steering carefully through the traditional ("O Christmas Tree", "Sleigh Ride", and "Let It Snow!") and more contemporary ("Skating", "Linus and Lucy", and "My Favorite Things"). Herbie Mann and Don Griffin join Barta on a decidedly Bossa version of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song". The playing across board is tasteful. Barta's arrangements are equally tasteful and informed. He judiciously uses his string section to add a down filler to his arrangements, increasing their warmth. This holiday music is worth seeking out and may be acquired from Source Music's website ( http://www.sourcemusic.com/ ) or by writing to Source Music, P.O. Box 1543, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.
Track Listing: O Christmas Tree; The Christmas Waltz; Sleigh Ride; Skating; Linus And Lucy; What Are You Doing New Years Eve?; Christmas Time Is Here; Silver Bells; Let It Snow!; The Christmas Song; Air On The G String; My Favorite Things; The Twelve Days Of Christmas. (Total Time: 52:33)
Personnel: Steve Barta: Piano; Kim Stone: Bass; Ronnie Shaw: Drums; Herbie Mann: Flute; Don Griffin: Guitar; And String Orchestra.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.