Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Music 09 Installment One: Carla Bley

Last year when The Room was still my virtual home, I did a series of posts on Christmas music which I imagined that I would make an annual feature--and indeed we shall--just here in the new space. We are particularly in the mood since we got a little snowy blizzard yesterday that involved snowmen, hot chocolate and of course hanging by the fire (one of the first of the year given the family room project--really, pictures coming). On to the music.

I am feeling that this year's look at holiday music will be pretty heavy on the jazz given what seems to be playing most often around our place. And it is going to start with a disc that came out this year and that I just recently acquired thanks to a rec from AccuJazz--which, by the way, has gobs or holiday jazz streaming if you are looking for such a site. The disc in question is Carla's Christmas Carols featuring Carla Bley (piano) Steve Swail (guitar) and the Partyka Brass Quintet. It is in many ways the perfect mix for me.

First, it is wonderful blend of jazz arrangements with a classical feel. The instrumentation is wonderful since, as someone who played trumpet for a long time, I love brass (but this is not your parents' brass quintet). It is mostly quiet, but with some nice upbeat tunes and moments within songs, but nothing schlocky like so many jazz holiday albums. As All About Jazz points out, Bley picks mainly traditional--that would be traditional, not boring--tunes and deals with them uniquely.
While others look for obscure Christmas tunes to lend themselves identity, Bley's choices are as conventional as they come—"The Christmas Song," "Ring Christmas Bells," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Jingle Bells" are but four of the twelve tunes that are so familiar as to be nearly Jungian. Still, this isCarla Bley, one of the great arrangers of the past half century, and her arrangements manage to tread the fine line between veracity and expansive, personal interpretation. There's no mistaking the "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" melody of "The Christmas Song" but, while avoiding any "jazzin' up Christmas" schtick, Bley makes this an unequivocally jazz album, as flugelhornist Axel Schlosser lays down some bop-inflected lines during his solo.
Indeed. Here are a few samples starting with their beautiful version of "O Tannebaum" which opens the album, and then, one of my favorites, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (here, Part's I and II):

O Tannebaum
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Part I
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Part II

And if you are a Christmas music fan, a jazz fan and/or a classical brass fan, then, buy this album.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, lovely. Especially love O Tanenbaum. Will be checking this out.