Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Jazz 2010: A quiet year for seasonal swing

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.16.10

[Web master's note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang  the eldest, youngest and only son of this site's jazz guru, Ric Bang  has surveyed the holiday jazz scene for roughly 15 years, with lengthy columns that just keep growing. Eventually, this site will archive these older columns; in the meanwhile, check out the sounds in this year's edition.]

Santa seems to have misplaced some of his swing.

Some years are great for holiday jazz; others … aren’t. New releases are unusually slim this year; were it not for a selection of slightly older albums that only came to my attention during the past 12 months, I’d have precious little to discuss. 2010 offers no new CDs from name-brand jazz superstars, and  perhaps more surprising  also no new compilations from labels that have delivered the goods in previous years: Concord, Origin and several others.

(Sadly, Christmas from the Blue Note came to my attention too late for this article; it’ll be discussed at this time next year.)

I’d hate to think this results from a diminished interest in seasonal swing, but one year does not a trend make. I won’t panic unless 2011 is similarly bereft of jazzy ho-ho-ho.

But the news isn’t all bad. Music doesn’t require a 2010 copyright in order to be “new”; if you’ve not encountered something before, it’s still fresh. And you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the following list. If it’s not as long as my usual annual round-up, well, that simply means your bank account won’t be as threatened.

So, I see Santa on sax, Rudolph on percussion, and three elves standing atop one another to work that bass: Grab some egg nog and prepare to snap those fingers and tap those toes.


Although not on the public’s radar as much as, say, Mannheim Steamroller, the a cappella group Take 6 is just as serious about the holidays: the newly released The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is the ensemble’s third seasonal release, following 1991’s He Is Christmas and 1999’s We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It can be hard to pigeonhole the group, since their style blends elements of gospel, R&B, vintage doo-wop and jazz … but when a bunch of guys sounds this good, they deserve to be praised.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is a shortish album, its 10 tracks clocking in at just shy of 35 minutes, but the contents are choice. You’ll marvel at the way the voices “cover” the background percussion instruments one would expect from an average rendition of these tunes; this is particularly noteworthy on “White Christmas” and a soulful reading of “Jingle Bells,” along with the enchanting “Sugarplum Dance,” a doo-wop variation on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” (no vocal line on this one, of course).

The rowdier selections are a lot of fun, particularly “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which opens with an argument between Claude McKnight III and Alvin Chea  over who should sing the bass melody line  and continues with all sorts of snarky side comments throughout the song.

But these guys have their sweeter side, as well: Their vocal chops are just as enchanting on the gentler arrangements, as with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

You won’t want to miss this album … and while you’re at it, pick up the other two, as well.

Check out the rest of this lengthy article here.

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