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.