Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Music: Jazz and More

There haven't exactly been sleighfuls of great Christmas music released this season, although Bob Dylan's holiday album has to count as the most surprising holiday oddity of this season or many others.

Several yuletide recordings, though, have risen to the top, including the following:

The Putumayo folks have again applied their big ears to a search for eclectic holiday music, and they've come up with another keeper, A Family Christmas. As per Putumayo tradition, the sources are diverse and the music generally falls into the category of rootsy/earthy. Highlights: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's sassy, swinging "Is Zat You Santa Claus?," Leon Redbone's sly, laidback "Let It Know," Brave Combo's polka-hopping "Jolly Old St. Nick" and the bluesy "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," from The Christmas Jug Band featuring Angela Strehli and Maria Muldaur. Sample here.

Threadhead Records, the fan-funded label created by devotees of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, this year offered its first yuletide collection, A Very Threadhead Holiday. It's a uniformly terrific collection of originals and classics. Picks: Bonerama leader Craig Klein's "Christmas On My Mind," a Fats-style brassy gem; Debbie Davis's ukelele-driven version of '50s-vintage "Hanging Up My Stockings"; Matt Perrine's tuba choir on "Carol of the Bells"; John Boutte's romantic, soulful "Holding You This Christmas"; trumpeter Shamarr Allen's trad-jazz "Santa Passed My House Up"; and Alex McMurray's bluesy, boozy "Santa, Let Me Call You a Cab." It's a real collaboration, as these dozen tracks feature much mixing and matching of great NOLA talent. Downloads here.

Trio West takes a second trip to the Christmas stocking with Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (Yummyhouse Records), another set of tightly constructed familiarities played by pianist Eldad Zvulun, bassist Neal Miner, and drummer Tobias Gebb (who arranged the tunes and produced the session). The three turn in a funk-edged "O Tannenbaum," a samba version of "Silent Night" and a gently grooving "We Three Kings Waltz." The group clearly was aiming for breezy get-in-and-out-of-the-tune brevity, but it would have been nice to hear these simpatico players stretch out more. Downloads here.

Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (DBCD) is halfway brass choir, halfway straight-ahead jazz, with pleasant arrangements of seasonal chestnuts played by an all-star group frontloaded with brass -- trumpeters Eddie Allen and Cecil Bridgewater, trombonist Clark Gayton, and W. Marshall Sealy on French horn (yes, he improvises, too). Latin jazz is in the mix, with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and it's all driven by a pianoless rhythm section, with bassist Kenny Davis and Carl Allen on drums and glockenspiel.

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