Xmas Music Lineup 2003

Xmas 2003 Music Lineup

YellowJackets – Peace Round
(Yellowjackets Ent. – 2003)
by Paula Edelstein

This is an excellent contemporary jazz rendition of some of your favorite holiday music. The Yellowjackets: Bob Mintzer on tenor and soprano saxophone, Russell Ferrante on piano and synths, Jimmy Haslip on bass and synths, and Marcus Baylor on drums; provide heartfelt arrangements for such songs as “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and “The First Noel,” with the latter featuring the lovely vocals of Jean Baylor. The group’s improvisations and attractive melodic phrasings of these well-known Christmas standards are stellar and ensure that you can get the true meaning of this and all seasons through their peaceful music. Mintzer’s soprano saxophone improvisations on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are some that you’re sure to play again and again. Other top listening results come through on the title track “Peace Round,” and “In A Silent Night” which was inspired by Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis. On PEACE ROUND The Yellowjackets’ interpretations are all part of the plan – the master plan for a single voice to pass the message of peace on to another in the same spirit. Buy it today exclusively from http://www.yellowjackets.com.

Eric Reed – Merry Magic
(MaxJazz – 2003)
by Carmen Miller

Eric Reed’s holiday release, “Merry Magic”, features a nice assortment of holiday favorites including “The Christmas Song” and “Little Drummer Boy”. Using his straight ahead piano style, Eric Reed delivers these old favorites with flair and sparkle, adding his own unique touches and nuances here and there to add new life to the tracks. The group takes “Winter Wonderland” and bops it up like mad! Eric is joined by guest vocalists Erin Bode and Paula West to help spice up this merry mix with their sparking vocal interpretations of “Santa Baby”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and “I Wonder As I Wander”. Eric also sings on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.

Clairdee – This Christmas
(Declare Music – 2003)
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela

“Have yourself a soulful little Christmas!” This is what vocalist Clairdee is singing about on her high-spirited new romp through the holiday season. At once swinging, funky, soulful and sexy, THIS CHRISTMAS infuses jazz with rhythm and blues, pop, gospel, funk and Brazilian rhythms – creating a captivating collection of warm treats for the cold winter. Her sound? Take the sassy irreverence of Carmen McRae and combine it with Diana Krall’s sophisticated understatement and the silky elegance of Natalie Cole, and you’ll hear Clairdee. You’ll hear Clairdee gleefully transform Charles Brown’s blues composition, “Bringing In A Brand New Year,” into a rejoicing gospel jazz affirmation. A celebratory tone is set immediately as Clairdee swaps phrases with vocalists Brenda Boykin and Nicolas Bearde. “It was easy to create a party atmosphere with Brenda and Nic. We spent as much time laughing as we did singing!”

And it will be hard to stay off of the dance floor once the irrepressible samba groove of “Winter Wonderland” begins. A Brazilian samba in midwinter? “I’ve always thought that the tropics make the perfect holiday season escape,” Clairdee insists, “this track will transport you directly to your favorite beach.” If the equatorial sun doesn’t warm your winter soul, Clairdee and Nicolas Bearde really turn up the heat with a steamy, seductive rendition of Frank Loesser’s classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “Our chemistry became so hot in the studio that even the nonsmoking recording engineer was craving a cigarette at the end!” Performing in Paris, across the US and Japan in the new millennium, Clairdee brings home a holiday hit with the exuberant THIS CHRISTMAS, guaranteed to warm even a Grinch’s heart and send you dancing into the new year.

A Nancy Wilson Christmas
(MCG – 2001)
by John Barrett

There are two things you need for a proper Christmas album: lavish arrangements, a cheerful voice … and a pure heart. Nancy Wilson kisses the lyrics gently: the emotions come naturally, and that is the best way. She sounds prim on “Let It Snow!”, but check out that arrangement: the Gillespie Alumni Big Band swaggers, with a sound that’s pure Sinatra. She has fun with it, letting some words drift long as the brass slowly builds. (Jon Faddis’ stratospheric, Dizzy-like solo is a keeper.) Check the samba guitar on “White Christmas”: Marty Ashby is soft and sensuous, a great foil for Herbie Mann’s flute. Their tropical heat sounds great with Nancy’s traditional reading; reminds me of Darlene Love’s version on the Phil Spector Christmas album. A quiet trio trips through “What Are you Doing New Year’s Eve?”; she sounds excited for the season, and begs you to accompany her. I doubt you’ll refuse.

The programming here is splendid, interspersing secular songs with the sacred. The wordless choir will grip you on “All Through the Night”. Renee Rosnes puts the Guaraldi touch on “O Christmas Tree” – before Claudio Roditi stirs up a Brazilian breeze. (Speaking of Guaraldi, Mann flutters through “Christmas Time Is Here” – and Nancy chirps like a skylark.) The woodwinds and strings on “O Holy Night” are a wondrous concoction, and “Carol of the Bells” has an a cappella intro you must hear to believe. This features the Voices, and they are magical – suddenly pianos rush in, with the power of Tyner. (Monty Alexander has a beautiful solo, jabbing in sophisticated, bluesy figures.) On the best Christmas music, you can feel the snow falling. After this wonderful effort, I’m shivering … and from joy.

Jazz Yule Love
(Mack Avenue – 2003)
by Paula Edelstein

The title says it all! Mack Avenue Records has issued its first Christmas compilation and it’s packed with great jazz versions of such Christmas songs as “We Three Kings,” “A Child Is Born,” “Silent Night,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The 12-track recording also spotlights such great groups as the Kenny Burrell Quartet, the Terry Gibbs Quartet, the Les McCann Trio, Pete Jolly Trio and Pillars of West Coast Jazz, Eastern Rebellion and The Eugene Maslov Trio. There are several very interesting solos but you are sure to enjoy the lightness of Terry Gibbs’ vibes on “White Christmas,” and Kenny Burrell’s melodic guitar on “A Child Is Born.”

The Reasons for Christmas Project
by Carmen Miller

A diverse and surprising Christmas compilation, The Reasons for Christmas includes heartfelt performances by jazz legends Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, David Leibman, and John Coates, Jr., as part of a project that was produced as a charity fund raiser. Other Pocono area artists on the record have contributed outstanding tracks including pianist Jesse Green, guitarist Gary Dillon and singers Bobby Syvarth and Nancy and Spencer Reed. Sales of the CD raises money for the grassroots organization PATH that provides transitional housing located in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. One wouldn’t expect a record of mostly unknowns to be as exciting and exceptional as this. “White Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” and “Good King Wenceslas” are the only Classic Christmas tunes on the CD; the other seven are all originals. A mix of vocals and instrumentals, the music is quite varied but within the jazz realm, with just a few exceptions.

Michael Buble – Let It Snow
(Reprise – 2003)
by Paula Edelstein

His name is Michael Bublé (pronounced Boo-blay) and the evidence of his singular swingness is on abundant display with his irresistible new Reprise/143 Records debut album titled MICHAEL BUBLE. More than a tribute to the gold standard of music’s most enduring songs; more than a homage to a bygone era of songwriting and performing: the thirteen tracks of Michael Bublé announce in no uncertain terms the arrival of a major new talent with a flair for infusing the familiar and beloved music with a fresh, original and utterly unique sensibility entirely his own. This wonderful collection of Christmas songs is Micheal’s current holiday offering. He sings five of your favorite tunes including “Let It Know, Let It Snow,” “The Christmas Song,” “Grown Up Christmas List,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “White Christmas.” Accompanied by Brian Bromberg on bass, Dave Tull on drums, John Chiodini on guitar, and David Foster and Randy Waldman on keyboards. This CD is smooth, satisfying and definitely one that you’ll want under your Christmas tree.

Dave Koz and Friends – A Smooth Jazz Christmas
(Capitol – 2001)
by Ray Redmond

At this point I’ve probably heard the same 20 holiday songs anywhere from 4-9 nine times apiece on some eleven christmas albums. When I picked up the ‘Koz Christmas’ CD I was expecting more of the same until I read the liner notes… Dave Koz, Peter White, Brenda Russell, David Benoit, Rick Braun, ‘whoa!’ I thought to myself, ‘this is an unofficial subset of the Smooth Jazz Mafia, so it should be Good!’ and it IS. Peter White’s guitar on “Silent Night” is eloquent and beautiful, and his solo on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” shows why he is one of the best around today, mixing his flamenco-like strumming with Dave’s strong sax. Koz has another very strong solo kicking the up-tempo rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with David Benoit.

Brenda Russell does a smooth and mellow version of her hit “Get Here”. This is a touching song that is as fitting for the soldiers over in Afghanistan today as it was for the soldiers in the Gulf war ten years ago when the track was released. If that’s not enough Brenda also croons a “White Christmas” that will bring a tear to your eye. Before I heard this CD, my best of the holiday crop was a release where there were a collection of artists who had each performed a song. On this release, the artists perform the songs together, each taking the lead on some tracks and just accompanying on others. That CD may still be a better collection of songs, but this is the best collection of performances out there. This group of artists plays a lot together during the course of the year, and it certainly shows here.

Latin Jazz Christmas
by Paula Edelstein

For jazz educators, your objective may be to have your students Listen and Learn! But at the same time, allow them (and yourself) to have some fun as the red and yellow swirls of Latin jazz colors illuminate the holidays and the excitement generated on the dance floor. When you pop Latin Jazz Christmas into your favorite music player you’ll hear such great artists as Ed Calle, Caribbean Jazz Project, Sheila E., Pete Escovedo, Poncho Sanchez and Arturo Sandoval lighting up the yuletide with exciting Afro-Cuban, mambo, songo, cha, cha, cha, danzon and rhumba rhythms. Start with “Jingle Bells” which is played as a big band songo. There is no way anyone will be able to stay still because Arturo Sandoval’s exciting trumpet solo and improvisations are sure to entertain as never before. “Sleigh Ride” is played as a mambo by The Caribbean Jazz Project on which Dave Valentin’s flute lead is the charming centerpiece. Further along on the recording, CJP also gives you added pleasure with “Angels We Have Heard On High,” played as a songo, and “Silent Night,” played as a danzon/cha cha cha. Pancho Sanchez is exhilarating on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” a mambo that features the Banda Brothers and Sanchez’s award-winning conga playing. But the great Sheila E. is more than a “sex cymbal” on “Santa Baby” (that classic piece made famous by Eartha Kitt). She performs the song as a cha cha cha and lends her great lead vocals and percussive techniques in such an exciting way that you are sure to be reminded that she is without a doubt the most innovative female multi-instumentalist/vocalist in any musical genre. Afro-Cuban rhythms abound on “White Christmas” and “What Child Is This,” while an exciting rumba on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” invites you to ponder the alto flute of Ed Calle. This is a great rendition of this classic Christmas favorite. “Feliz Navidad” rounds out this excellent recording with Pete Escovedo & Ray Obiedo doing the honors on Jose Feliciano’s classic holiday song. So have your students listen and learn as they get away for a nice Latin Jazz Christmas.

Two great straight ahead Christmas albums include an incredible compilation of old favorites and a new re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.” A group calling itself the Classical Jazz Quartet, featuring arrangements by Bob Belden, performs the Tchaikovsky’s work with the care and technique of the group they’re patterned after, the Modern Jazz Quartet They consists of Stefon Harris on vibes, veterans Ron Cater and Kenny Barron on bass and piano respectively, and Lewis Nash on drums.

The Very Best Of Christmas Jazz is a knock-out 14 song compilation featuring John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Count Basie and others. What makes the collection priceless is the inclusion of Louis Armstrong’s very funny “Zat You, Santa Claus?” It’s also noteworthy because a couple of gems are mined from the historic Chicago Chess Records vaults, including early recordings by Ramsey Lewis and Kenny Burrell. (Verve – 2001)

Connie Evingson – The Secret of Christmas
(Minnehaha Music – 2003)
by Paula Edelstein

Connie Evingson sings The Secret of Christmas with an incomparable blend of spontaneous vocal expressions and refreshing ambient techniques. This is not your ordinary Christmas recording, since Evingson has added original lyrics to some of the most unforgettable traditional holiday music, folk songs and hymns ever. She opens the program with a medley of “Snowfall/I Love The Winter Weather.” Her beautiful four-octave voice is filled with joy and enthusiasm and the appealing parables of Christmas. Her great arrangement and interpretation of “Carol of The Bells” includes additional lyrics that reflect early childhood remembrances of church bells chiming and the meaning associated with that. Here she is swinging, scatting and bopping with the excellent swing complements of Mary Louise Knutson on piano, Terry Burns on bass, Jay Epstein on drums and Dave Karr on saxophone.

“The Nutcracker Petite Suite” is the six-movement centerpiece of the recording and it is excellent. Evingson has also added jazzy lyrics to Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet. Co-arranged with Dave Karr, this splendid re-interpretation is sung to excellent musical accompaniment from Sanford Moore on piano, Steve Jennings on drums and Terry Burns on bass. She uses sweet phrasings, scats, chord voicings and Karr’s flute to weave together a marvelous, continuous story. Evingson’s expressive use of color tones, subtle rhythmic phrasings are what make THE SECRET OF CHRISTMAS worth its weight in gold.

We at JazzUSA would like to give special thanks for many of these Christmas music reviews to Ms. Paula Edelstein. Merry Christmas Paula!
Reprinted with permission of…