Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Holiday Jazz 2019: Plenty of tasty stocking-stuffers

[Web master’s note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang — still the eldest, youngest and only son of this site’s primary jazz guru, Ric Bang — has surveyed the holiday jazz scene for 23 years, with lengthy columns that just keep growing. Check out previous columns by clicking on the CHRISTMAS label below.]

Let’s start with a blast from the past, finally (finally!) making its debut on CD.

Longtime holiday jazz fans have always prized the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s two classic albums: 1961’s Sound of Christmas and 1964’s More Sounds of Christmas. Both initially were released by Argo and then reissued by Cadet and Chess; the first one went digital in 1989, first on Chess/MCA, and then on Verve. The second album logically should have hit CD simultaneously … but that didn’t happen.

Three decades passed (!). Then, just a few months ago, Verve quietly issued More Sounds of Christmas on CD. Modern listeners now can delight in the trio’s droll handling of “Snowbound,” “We Three Kings” and “Jingle Bells” — the latter a particularly saucy arrangement — and numerous other seasonal chestnuts, along with a couple of originals (“Egg Nog” and “Plum Puddin’ ”). 

The hitch: Five of the 10 tracks are accompanied by syrupy strings, which’ll raise an eyebrow or two. (Oh, well.)

Folks just starting a holiday jazz collection will be delighted by New Continent’s Christmas Hits: Jazz, Lounge and Rhythm & Blues. This three-disc anthology offers 25 iconic tracks in each of the three genres. The Christmas Jazz CD features classics by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Kenton, Mel Tormé, Chet Baker and many others. Christmas Lounge is laden with vocals by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Julie London and others. Christmas Rhythm & Blues, finally, is a smorgasbord featuring The Cadillacs, Brenda Lee, Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Drifters and much more.

With 75 tracks for slightly less than $13, you can’t go wrong!

As this survey was going to bed, Santa dropped a copy of up-and-coming vocalist Rebecca Angel’s CD single cover of “Santa Baby.”Considerable bravery is required to tackle this classic, in the wake of Eartha Kitt’s iconic 1953 version, along with respectable later covers by Kylie Minogue and Madonna. To her credit, Angel has the appropriate little-girl coo, and her flirty reading is backed by a tasty quintet: Dennis Angel (Flugelhorn), Jason Miles (keyboards), Jonah Prendergast (guitar), Reggie Washington (bass) and Brian Dunne (drums).

But will it stand the test of time? Hard to say. 

Now, let’s see what else Santa brought jazz fans this year (or recently, anyway) …