The Count Basie Orchestra – A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas! (Concord Jazz)
Various – Christmas With Ella & Friends (Decca)
Barbara Dennerlein – Christmas Soul (MPS)
Music For A While – Canticles Of Winter (Grappa)
If your house is like mine, then there is a small pile of CDs that gets dusted off each December and then put back on the shelf in January to be ignored for the next 11 months.
Potential additions to that pile have arrived for review, so briefly…
The Basie band’s disc is just what you’d expect. Tight, swinging arrangments of all the favourites: Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, Good “Swing” Wenceslas, Sleigh Ride, etc. There are some vocal guests – Johnny Mathis who is still sounding in remarkably good voice, Ledisi who sings The Christmas Song with just the occasional soulful nuance, and Carmen Bradford sounding lush on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – and the piano soloist is Ellis Marsalis. It’s all nice but unsurprising. Just right for basting a turkey, checking the pigs-in-blankets and refilling that chef’s wine glass, I suppose.
With Christmas With Ella & Friends, it’s not so much question the friends – I didn’t know Ella hung with Brenda Lee and Burl Ives – but feel the length! Two discs, containing 50 “winter warmers” as they call them on the cover. Do you need this? Not if you have Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas.
Things get a little funkier with Hammond organist Dennerlein who has Magnus Lindgren on saxophone woodwinds and arrangements, and Zara McFarlane as vocalist on three tracks. The whole thing is produced by Nicola Conte, guaranteeing that certain nuevo-retro (yep, self-contradictory, I realise) feel. Songs include Let It Snow, Little Drummer Boy, Sleigh Ride, Oh Tannenbaum and White Christmas. And for a left-field inclusion, how about Chim Chim Cherie (Dennerlein’s spelling of Chim Chim Cher-ee)? The leader’s Hammond stops things getting too twee, and it’s a laid-back affair more suited to the post-Christmas dinner slump.
The one that really tickles my fancy is Canticles Of Winter. Yes, Music For A While is a terribly name for a band, but it comprises Stian Carstensen on accordion, banjo and pedal steel, Mathias Eick on trumpet and arrangements, Martin Taxt on tuba and Pal Hausken on drums, all fronted by Tora Augestad on vocals, so you can see the appeal.
Things are suitably low-key for a dark, Norwegian Christmas, and the band eschews the cheerful American stuff in favour of carols and adaptations of classical pieces. Included are In The Bleak Midwinter (with the Harold Darke tune), the Wexford and Coventry carols, a bit from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and Gute Nacht from Schubert’s Winterreise. Augestad’s clear voice over the shine of pedal steel and the gruff grunt of tuba with Eick’s breathy trumpet adding the curlicues lights up all my fairy lights.
Categories: CD review