Yuletide Music Roundup


Tony DeSare

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Bobby Timmons

Bobby Timmons
Holiday Soul

Now available in the LP format for the first time since its 1965 debut, Bobby Timmons’ Holiday Soul finds the former Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley sideman (who famously wrote “Dat Dere” and “Moanin’”) officiating on piano with swinging authority. The Bud Powell-influenced musician energizes “Winter Wonderland” and seven more selections without seeming the least bit self-conscious about his soul-jazz and blues tendencies. The sound of sleigh bells adds to the Yuletide atmosphere. —Frank-John Hadley

Don Patterson

Don Patterson
Holiday Soul

Also returning on vinyl this year is organist Don Patterson’s 1965 album Holiday Soul. In addition to sharing an album title, both Patterson and Bobby Timmons lead trios and benefit from Rudy Van Gelder’s fastidious sound engineering. Patterson, then in his late twenties, handles himself competently as an acolyte of Jimmy Smith taking the measure of eight well-trodden tunes. But he doesn’t set his sights on B-3 ecstasy. Instead Patterson stays earthbound and even church-serious, notably with slow sermons “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.” Guitarist Pat Martino, then an up-and-comer with blues on his mind, is eminently enjoyable here. —Frank-John Hadley

Diana Krall

Diana Krall
Christmas Songs

Now available on vinyl for the first time is Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs. Eleven years after its CD release, this album has become a paragon of Christmastide jazz singing in the new millennium. Krall is particularly adept at using the reflective side of her sensibility to interpret ballads like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Her contralto mixes vulnerability and sensuousness, and the music sparkles. Rarely mawkish or bound tight to propriety, Krall gives the impression she genuinely feels the emotion behind the lyrics. Her piano work has something of Nat “King” Cole’s touch. And it’s laudable that she digresses from the usual ho-ho-hum holiday fare to interpret Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep)” and Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Raise a mug of holiday cheer to a dozen musicians, including the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and string players. Yet Krall’s best Yule album may be the one she didn’t make long ago while in a trio with bassist Ben Wolfe and guitarist Russell Malone: Their track (with drummer Jeff Hamilton) on her 1998 EP Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas remains an enduring tease. —Frank-John Hadley

Seraph Choir

The Seraph Choir
Christmas In Africa

No holiday is complete without hearing some stellar artists from the Beyond category. Check out The Seraph Choir’s Christmas In Africa, reissued after a lapse of a dozen years. The gorgeous singing of these 12 vocalists from Central Africa (fluent in English, French and several African languages) signifies the sacredness of the season. In their hands, a program of popular carols and obscure devotional songs are munificent gifts. Conceptually, this a cappella group, once quite popular in England, belongs to the genre of polyphonic European choral singing. Only “Unto Us A Child Is Born” has instrumentation—in the form of African percussion. Indeed, Christmas In Africa holds the capacity to strike a chord with believers and doubters alike, including escapists who need a special album for their trip to a desert island—or, better yet, an ice floe near the North Pole. —Frank-John Hadley

Steve Riley

Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys
Party At The Holiday, All Night Long!
(Mamou Playboys Records)
Pay attention to the Cajun band Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, whose Party At The Holiday, All Night Long! is replete with high-spirited bayou sounds ideal for two-stepping dancers. Riley’s singing and accordion work allow him to express his innate admiration for departed greats Clifton Chenier (1925–’87) and Buckwheat Zydeco (1947–2016). Not inclined to write his own holiday songs, Riley freshens up interesting songs from the r&b and pop past. These tunes often dwell on a protagonist who is apart from a loved one during the holiday season, but revelry from the band—influenced by rock and country music as well as zydeco—trumps the melancholy of the lyrics. A clear highlight is “Louisiana Christmas Day,” drawing from Aaron Neville’s version and acknowledging traditional fiddle-accordion virtues. Scrooge alert: A version of George Harrison’s “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”—with kid singers helping out—is hellishly repetitious, and Charles Brown’s great “Please Come Home For Christmas” has unconvincing guest vocalist Wayne Toups losing his way. —Frank-John Hadley

Natalie MacMaster

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
A Celtic Family Christmas
In Canada, married couple Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, both fiddlers, supply tidings of comfort and joy to folk-based music on A Celtic Family Christmas. With the greatest of ease, they marshal their virtuosity into Yule exaltations and reveries rich in personality and emotion. Restorations of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and the like are performed with an imaginative blend of modernity and Celtic tradition. At times, this well-crafted music evokes Fairport Convention and the Bothy Band. With their musical family in tow, MacMaster and Leahy even make the kid-friendly “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” likeable to adults. —Frank-John Hadley

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On Sale Now
August 2019
Cécile McLorin Salvant
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