Scott Wilkie has a new holiday recording called The Wonder of Christmas. It’s solo acoustic piano renditions of all of your seasonal favorites. And by “all,” I mean all. With 17 covers of the classics, you’ll find several that you’ll have on your Christmas playlist.
I remember being impressed by Scott’s first recording, Boundless, nearly 15 years ago. I wrote on this site on February 19, 1999:
Missing the pop-jazz sound of the 80s and early 90s? Check out Boundless, the debut from keyboardist Scott Wilkie. Wilkie’s music reminds me of the contemporary jazz piano CDs that I heard when I first started listening to the genre in 1989 or so – works by David Benoit, Tom Grant, and Alex Bugnon. I wouldn’t rule out a Rippingtons influence (especially in the compositions), especially since former Ripps Steve Reid and Jeff Kashiwa, as well as main man Russ Freeman, play on the release. Wilkie doesn’t hold back on the uptempo jams either, which you’ll notice from the start.
Boney James is now two for two for excellent holiday recordings. Almost a decade ago, I reviewed the saxman’s first seasonal CD, Boney’s Funky Christmas, and was impressed. I love the Christmas season and have a larger-than-average number of related discs. The fact that this is one of them that I put on first each season says something.
I’ve been listening to the new Christmas Present for about a month and jotting down notes on it. The words I wrote the most are warm, intimate, and acoustic. This is a great holiday recording and not just in the contemporary jazz genre. The opening track, “Skating,” maintains the jazzy feel of the original Vince Guaraldi composition. Boney’s playing effectively mimics the falling snow vibe I’ve always heard in the song. “Santa Baby” surprised me with an arrangement I’ve never heard before. I know a lot of musicians want to try something different with seasonal songs because everyone has heard the standard versions. More often than not, those make me wince. You know what I’m talking about. This different version, with a sultry vocal by Chante Moore, gets better for me each time I hear it. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is treated with reverence and feeling. The acoustic guitar and light keyboard interplay with a gentle saxophone had made this one of the most memorable versions of the song I have. The emotion is also palpable on the somber Joni Mitchell classic “River” – which is just Boney and Tim Carmon on acoustic piano. “O Tannenbaum” starts with a startling warm tenor sound then kicks into a festive mood about a minute and a half into it. It’s likely to get the people at your holiday party to start clapping. Speaking of fun, Angie Stone injects the uptempo, non-bluesy “Merry Christmas, Baby.” It’s another one for the party. My favorite track is “Silent Night” featuring Anthony Hamilton. It’s a gospel rendition featuring Boney, a Hammond B-3, an acoustic piano, and Hamilton’s vocal. Your local uninhibited church won’t be so silent if they hear this. Nice.
Christmas Present is more than a standard, going-through-the-motions holiday recording. It’s better than every other contemporary jazz recording I’ve heard in the last few years, and it’s better than the best selling holiday recording of all time. I think that can be chalked up to heart. There’s feeling in many of the songs. It’s music that can be enjoyed by everyone. Only the Grinch wouldn’t enjoy this gift.
[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]
The 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.
Warner Bros. gathered its jazz and contemporary jazz rosters to put together the label’s first holiday collection. But, unlike other label holiday albums, Jazz Christmas Party, doesn’t just feature submitted tracks from its artists. WB artists collaborated together on several songs on this album. Bob James and Béla Fleck duet on “White Christmas. Michael Franks and Kirk Whalum work together on Franks’ “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree.” The constant on the release is the keys of the label’s big three pianists – Bob James, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Goldings. The songs aren’t exactly Christmas standards. Al Jarreau, Boney James, Bob James, and Larry Goldings perform on Kenny Loggins and Bob James’s “Celebrate Me Home.” Whalum lays down his gospel sound on “A Cradle of Bethlehem.” New WB vocalist Gabriela Anders delivers a great debut on her original “Our First Christmas.” The musicianship on the album is top-notch, from the headliners to the rhythm provided by James Genus, Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy, and Billy Kilson.
Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party is a seasonal album that all jazz fans will enjoy.
t r a c k s (note that several musicians play on several other tracks)
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – Joshua Redman; “Celebrate Me Home” – Al Jarreau; “A Cradle In Bethlehem” – Kirk Whalum; “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree” – Michael Franks; “Our First Christmas” – Gabriela Anders; “Silent Night” – Larry Goldings and Brad Mehldau; “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” – Boney James; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Kevin Mahogany; “Pure Imagination” – Mark Turner; “Christmas Time Is Here” – Brad Mehldau Trio; “Personent Hodie (Sing Aloud This Day)” – Bob James Trio; “White Christmas” – Béla Fleck and Bob James