2004 Jazz Holiday CDs Round Up Part 2

Christmas Time Is Here by Dianne ReevesI?ve always thought jazz is the best genre for Christmas music. The intimacy of the jazz trio especially can make for some of the most enjoyable music of the holiday season. Multi-Grammy winning vocalist Dianne Reeves proves this on her first seasonal recording Christmas Time Is Here. With the exception of a small number of guests, the entire recording is Dianne with her longtime trio of pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Greg Hutchinson. The selected songs are the standards you?d hope to see on a holiday recording. Dianne shines on the less frequently heard songs such as the gentle ?Christ Child?s Lullaby,? ?A Child Is Born,? and a Brazilian flavored ?Christmas Waltz.? Dianne and the trio version of ?The Christmas Song? is going to be one of my favorites for a long time. Christmas Time Is Here is a great addition to your holiday library. You can find it in stores now on the Blue Note label or support this site by ordering it from Amazon.com.

2004 Jazz Holiday CDs Round Up Part 1

The Heads Up label has made easily available two holiday releases that had previously only been available online. The Yellowjackets and Hiroshima both had seasonal CDs available through the web sites but, since both groups are on the label?s roster, they now enjoy retail exposure and greater online availability. You can hear music from both recordings on TomorrowJazz Radio throughout the holiday season. You can support this site by purchasing Hiroshima’s Spirit of the Season and Yellowjackets’ Peace Round from Amazon.com.

In my review of Peace Round last year, I said “Yellowjackets don?t stray too far from the familiarity of songs like ?Little Drummer Boy, ?God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,? and ?Deck the Halls? yet still jazz them enough to make them unique and interesting.” Read the whole review here.

Spirit of the Season by HiroshimaEven though Hiroshima had songs on a couple of Windham Hill holiday compilations, Spirit of the Season is the first full holiday release from the band. After listening to this 11-song collection, I?m ready for the sequel. This is an excellent holiday recording and makes me wonder why they haven?t done it before. June Kuramoto?s koto again is the highlight. The distinctiveness of the koto sound makes many of the traditional holiday songs sound like new. June?s expressiveness on ?White Christmas? and playfulness on ?Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? demonstrate her mastery of the instrument. The latter song is the best rendition I?ve heard of that song in a long time. Also notable, and appropriate given Hiroshima?s east-meets-west sound, is the use of taiko drums on ?Little Drummer Boy.? Two new instrumentals also add to the fun: the atmospheric ?Listen (To the Falling Snow)? and the uplifting ?Peace On Earth.? The group?s classic ?Thousand Cranes? is revisited and is enhanced with a gospel choir. Overall, Spirit of the Season succeeds in evoking that special feeling of the holiday. It?s perfect for every holiday occasion ? decorating your tree, dinner party, or just listening on your own. Even better, tell your friends!

Review: Spirit of the Season from Hiroshima

Spirit of the Season from HiroshimaEven though Hiroshima had songs on a couple of Windham Hill holiday compilations, Spirit of the Season is the first full holiday release from the band. After listening to this 11-song collection, I’m ready for the sequel. This is an excellent holiday recording and makes me wonder why they haven’t done it before. June Kuramoto’s koto again is the highlight. The distinctiveness of the koto sound makes many of the traditional holiday songs sound like new. June’s expressiveness on “White Christmas” and playfulness on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” demonstrate her mastery of the instrument. The latter song is the best rendition I’ve heard of that song in a long time. Also notable, and appropriate given Hiroshima’s east-meets-west sound, is the use of taiko drums on “Little Drummer Boy.” Two new instrumentals also add to the fun: the atmospheric “Listen (To the Falling Snow)” and the uplifting “Peace On Earth.” The group’s classic “Thousand Cranes” is revisited and is enhanced with a gospel choir.

Overall, Spirit of the Season succeeds in evoking that special feeling of the holiday. It’s perfect for every holiday occasion – decorating your tree, dinner party, or just listening on your own. Even better, tell your friends!

Review: Peace Round from Yellowjackets

Peace Round from YellowjacketsThe Yellowjackets celebrate the holiday season with their first complete recording of Christmas music. This is the easiest review I’ve ever had to write. If you like the Yellowjackets, or if you like the sounds of the season, buying Peace Round is a no-brainer.

Russell Ferrante notes that there are some challenges in recording a holiday collection, including making “familiar Christmas songs personal but at the same time respect their original intent and the spirit of the season.” Even before reading the press release, that’s the impression I got from listening to this CD. Yellowjackets don’t stray too far from the familiarity of songs like “Little Drummer Boy, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Deck the Halls” yet still jazz them enough to make them unique and interesting. The ten song collection also includes favorites like “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night,” “The First Noel,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The group really packs the emotion into “In a Silent Night” and “Peace Round.” The latter is a simple eight measure round that “seemed to be the perfect metaphor for the season.” Ferrante elaborates on that in the CD’s liner notes. It is a somber tune that serves as a perfect soundtrack to the Holy Night.

Of particular note is the Yellowjackets’ playing. The band has never sounded better than on this effort. It may be due to the fact that most performances are just the first or second takes with little or no overdubbing. It may also be that the band has been so busy lately and have really bonded as musicians and friends. Whatever the case may be, they have released a warm and inviting recording.

Review: Boney’s Funky Christmas from Boney James

[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]

Boney's Funky Christmas from Boney JamesThe ads for Boney’s first holiday release call this “the album to put on after you put the kids to bed.” Sure enough, Boney’s Funky Christmas features the seductive grooves you know the saxman for. This is the smoothest Christmas release I’ve heard in the last two years. Boney’s stamp on these songs (mostly traditional holiday tunes) is distinctive and the rhythms and production by his longtime producer, Paul Brown are top notch. Boney is especially tender on the Chris Eaton/Amy Grant composition “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” He has able assistance on the album from guest vocalists Dee Harvey (on “This Christmas”) and Bobby Caldwell (on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”). Rick Braun guests on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Although the other eight tracks are in the silky r&b vein, Boney also tries his hand at a stripped down sound with just him and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa on “Jingle Bells.” Overall, this is one of the most solid contemporary jazz holiday releases and one that will be enjoyed for years to come.

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