Wednesday, December 24, 1997

Holiday Jazz 1997: Santa delivers a mixed bag

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.24.97

[Web master’s note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang — the eldest, youngest and only son of this site’s jazz guru, Ric Bang — began surveying the annual holiday jazz scene with this column. Take note of its brevity, which resulted from space constraints that soon vanished, as the years continued. Subsequent columns threatened to devour the entire newspaper; in great contrast, this one is succinct to the point of being terse. Ah, well; we all have to start somewhere!]

It would seem that jazz artists continue to regard holiday tunes as a good bet, because quite a number of new releases have hit the bins during the past few weeks.

Piano fans can’t do better than Dave McKenna’s Christmas Ivory (Concord CCD-4772-2), an ambitious, one-man collection of superb solo work: blues, stride, swing rag and anything else the 67-year-old acoustic phenomenon sets his mind to.

It’s a grand series of cuts by a guy who knows he doesn’t need to impress listeners with needless flash; his renditions of “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night,” in particular, are poignant in their quiet clarity.

(By the way, if you like McKenna, do check out Butch Thompson’s solo piano work on Yulestride.)

Jim Brickman’s The Gift (Windham Hill 01934-11242-2) comes in somewhere near the lazy end of the piano spectrum: pleasant and undemanding instrumentals from a young talent who isn’t trying nearly as hard as he should. Brickman is becoming the Kenny G of the 88-string guitar, and the four vocals present on this collection are too sappy for words.

For my money, Brickman did much better work on 1996’s mini-CD, Christmas Memories, packaged with Windham Hill’s The Carols of Christmas.