Oct 28, 2011
The weather forecast for Western Massachusetts includes a Winter Storm Watch, expecting 5 plus inches of wet snow. On October 29, this is not acceptable. Trick or Treat in galoshes, anyone?
Naturally, I am looking for someone to blame. And I have decided the reason for the wintry weather is the arrival of Christmas CDs in the mail for review. If you’re playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Jingle Bells” in October, you’re courting disaster.
If the initial crop of releases is any indication, we’re getting some above average jazz for Christmas this year. The real winner in the crowd is Geri Allen’s A Child is Born. Picking up where last year’s brilliant solo piano work Flying Toward the Sound left off, this is not an album of sing a longs, but rather re-explorations of traditional tunes. Rather than stick with holy religious or secular holiday songs, Ms. Allen throws in hymns like “God is With Us” and originals “Imagining Gena at Sunrise” and “Imagining Gena at Sunset”. Ms. Allen has once again dug deep to wring real soul from tunes that have become all too easy to gloss over. As a result, A Child is Born deserves a special place on the Christmas jazz shelf.
Moving from contemplative to swinging, Chris Bauer’s In A Yuletide Groove features his warm harmonica sounds over a quartet that keeps things moving along winningly. Glenn McClelland (keyboards), Chris Zeimer (guitar), Matt Parrish (bass) and Dave Mohn (drums) have a slightly irreverent streak to their approach to these classics, keeping the music up-tempo and bright. Bauer’s sound is always inviting, and he wisely let’s the band do the heavy musical lifting, keeping things – well, in a yuletide groove.
From Canada comes A Celebration in Time, bringing together the varying sounds of pianist Oliver Jones, singer Ranee Lee and backing groups the Daphnee Louis Singers and Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir for an album with a celebratory spirit. Jones is not afraid to play with the tempos and timing of these Christmas classics (check out his “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen”) and the singers never approach cliché in their presentation of familiar material.
It’s not jazz, but since my latest crush is on singer-actress Zooey Deschanel (ooh, those eyes), it’s worth mentioning that her folky band She & Him are releasing A Very She & Him Christmas, featuring M. Ward and her dueting winningly on familiar tunes like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a gender reversal in the seduction dialogue) and “Silver Bells”. Stuff to put a smile on your face.