Veteran saxophonist Tim Warfield delivers one of the finest modern Christmas jazz albums around on Jazzy Christmas. Performing a selection of familiar songs with a heavy contemporary flavor, the music is so straight-ahead in nature that such seasonal tunes like "Let It Snow," "Joy To The World," and "Silent Night," are almost unrecognizable as Christmas music and could easily be part of any playlist throughout the year. The arrangements take advantage of Warfield's star-studded cast, including trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and vibraphonist Stefon Harris.
Assuring its uniqueness as a holiday album, Warfield's renditions of some of these Christmas classics are, as he states, "deliberately varied in length...allowing them to develop"all with a measure of sophisticated improvisation sufficient enough to disguise some of the familiar melodies under a veil of terrific harmonies. The result is a lively, hard-driving showcase of sensational solos presented with boppish flair, begging for repeated spins. The traditional "Santa Clause Is Coming to Town" begins the session in a most untraditional fashion, with Warfields's earthy tenor leading a barrage of terrific solos, as Stafford and Harris join in on the fun.
Vocalist Joanna Pascale appears on three tracks, introducing the Sammy Cahn favorite "Let It Snow" before yielding to Harris, who infuses his interpretation with a slight touch of Latin rhythms on this nine-minute burner. Percussionist Daniel Sadownick provides the sounds of the sleigh bells, while pianist Neil Podgurski runs the keys on the leader's soprano version of "Joy To The World." Drummer Clarence Penn's crashing cymbal accents seem all that appropriate on "Little Drummer Boy," another piece in which Warfield provides more torrid time on the soprano.
One of the album's standouts is a traditional rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," where Warfield is at his sensational best, wielding his tenor aggressively and assertively. Other bright moments include a special rendition of "Oh Christmas Tree," featuring the great baritone vocalist Jamie Davis, as well as a new arrangement of "Silent Night" and Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall."
Though a Christmas project at its core, the album also includes a bonus track in celebration of Hanukkah ("The Dreidal Song). With Jazzy Christmas , Warfield takes a selection of well-known traditional Christmas songs and morphs them into a session of hard-improvised jazz, distinguishing it from other jazz holiday albums.
Santa Clause is Coming to Town; Let it Snow; Joy to the World; Little Drummer Boy; Caroling Caroling; Oh Christmas Tree; Silent Night; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Snowfall; The Dreidel Song.
Tim Warfield: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Stefon Harris: vibes; Cyrus Chestnut: piano; Rodney Whitaker: bass; Clarence Penn: drums; Daniel Sadownick: percussion; Neil Podgurski: piano (1, 3, 8, 10); Joanna Pascale: vocals (2, 5, 7); Jamie Davis: vocals (6).