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Human: Under the Holiday Star

Larry Taylor By

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Standing out in the 2011 Christmas season's recordings, Under The Holiday Star is, in fact, a swinging big band session for any season. With crisp arrangements, it features crack solos, along with engaging vocals. Without a doubt, a major plus in this collection of classics and yuletide originals is that it's available free from Belgian lager Stella Artois, through its website, as a digital download offered throughout this holiday season.

In the liner notes, the group's style is described as "retro cool, stylish and undeniably hip"; in vogue for jazz fans in any season, this music can be appreciated as much now as it most certainly would have been 50 years ago.

Recorded in New York and Los Angeles by Human—a talented ensemble led by composer/arranger Gordon Minette—standout contributions come especially from saxophonist Dan Block and guitarist Doug Wamble, along with singers Leah Siegel, Antoine Blech and Maddie Myles.

The highlights start with "Deck the Hall," a rhythmic explosion from the horns led by trumpeter Brian Pareschi. A buoyant sax section lifts an entrancing "Nutcracker March," which bubbles along and bursts into hard bop, with Block providing the impetus, while on "Winter Wonderland," Siegel adds a sensual note to the festive celebration.

Worth noting is an unusual, very effective, take on "Jingle Bells," coming across as sad and thoughtful—a feeling emphasized by James Leibow's compelling guitar—suggesting a reflection on youthful holidays. In contrast, Minnette's impressive original, "Snowball," is given a hard-hitting arrangement, providing generous solo space for the band members.

Appropriately, "Auld Lang Syne" brings things to a close on a poignant note. This old chestnut brings to mind the ancient adage, "nothing is for free." An exception seems to be this delightful jazz Christmas present.

Track Listing: Deck The Halls; The Nutcracker March; Winter Wonderland; Jingle Bells; Snowball; Baby It's Cold Outside; Let's Call It Quits; Auld Lang Syne

Personnel: Dan Block: saxophones, clarinet, flute; Kenny Wollesen: drums; David Wong: bass; Doug Wamble: guitar (1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6,.7) ; James Leibow; guitar (4); Steve Ash: piano (1); Larry Ham; piano 2, 5, 7, 8); Mark Shane; piano (3); John Allred: trombone (8); Ryan Keberle: trombone (5. 6);Brian Pareschi: trumpet (1); Gordon Minette; sleighbells (1); Steven Bernstein; trumpet (2, 3); Art Baron; trombone (2); Dan Barrett: trombone, trumpet (3); Nick Marchione: trumpet (8); Jonathan Powell: trumpet (5); Mark Sherman; vibraphone (5 8); Leah Siegel: vocal (3): Antoine Blech: vocal (3,7); Maddie Myles: vocal (7); Kathryn Raio; vocal (8); Karen Lloyd: vocal (8); Kyle Gordon: vocal (8); Kevin Osborne: vocal (8); Ron Sunshine: harmonica (8); Chris Palmaro: Hammond Organ (6); Dave Schommer: percussion (6).

Title: Under the Holiday Star | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced


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