Yuletide Music Roundup 2017


The Eyal Vilner Big Band has a new album titled Hanukkah.

(Photo: Michelle Watt)

Champian Fulton album cover

Champian Fulton
Christmas With Champian
(Champian Records)

As evidenced by her performances on the 2017 Jazz at the Ballroom album Christmas, it’s clear that holiday genialness comes naturally to Champian Fulton. Her album Christmas With Champian finds her dispelling the deadening familiarity of dry evergreens like “Let It Snow,” allowing listeners to hear a shopworn lyric and melody as if for the first time. Her attractive singing voice and piano playing fit well with David Williams’ bass and Fukushi Tainaka’s drums. She enjoys a familial bond by having her father, trumpet/ flugelhorn player Steve Fulton, contribute to five tracks. On Fulton’s original vocal number “Merry Merry Christmas,” the only accompaniment is her expressive piano work.

Herb Alpert album cover

Herb Alpert
The Christmas Wish
(Herb Alpert Presents)

Herb Alpert hasn’t trimmed a tree in a recording studio since 1968, but now he’s back in yuletide mode. On his new album, his trumpet crackles with joy in first-rate arrangements by Chris Walden that offer fresh approaches to chestnuts like “Santa Baby” and “Winter Wonderland.” Judicious employment of a 45-piece orchestra and 32-person choir reduces the threat of excessive elaboration. The meticulous singing of Alpert’s wife, Lani Hall, adorns the title track.

Jason Paul Curtis album cover

Jason Paul Curtis
These Christmas Days
(Self Release)

If there’s any justice in Santa’s world, Jason Paul Curtis and his new holiday disc will be appreciated far and wide. A Sinatra-influenced singer-songwriter based in the Washington, D.C., area, he’s got a real feel for the fun or romantic words he’s crafted for eight tuneful originals. Complementing Curtis’ pleasant charisma are a Basie-style big band called Swing Shift and his combo Swinglab.

Eugene Marlow album cover

Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble
A Not So Silent Night
(MEII Enterprises)

Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble recognized the stale orthodoxy of much holiday music and chose to do something about it on its new album. The Hanukkah, Noel and New Year’s songs derive a good part of their ecumenical chutzpah from the inventiveness of Marlow’s arrangements and the spry individuality of his pianism. It’s a blessing that the ensemble approaches “The Dreidel Song,” “Jingle Bells” and the rest with the right mix of audacity and familiarity.

Sultans of String album cover

Sultans of String
Christmas Caravan
(Self Release)

The Canadian band Sultans of String keeps imaginative imperatives in overdrive for the entirety of Christmas Caravan, a generous pitch for global unity through the music of Christmas, Kwanza and Hanukkah. These five musicians have jubilantly recharged the classics with arrangements that demand attention. “Greensleeves” has a Turkish flair as violinist Chris McKhool and the other Sultans are joined by Istanbul’s Gündem Yayli Grubu string ensemble. The Ukrainian New Year’s carol “Shchedryk” (“Carol Of The Bells”)—performed here with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra—progresses with uplifting energy. The Sultans can slow down and be reflective, too: “Silent Night” is simply beautiful.

Diana Panton album cover

Diana Panton
Christmas Kiss

Canada’s Diana Panton is a sensitive singer with a lovely voice who brings a warm glow to all 15 tracks on her new holiday album. Panton deftly uses gossamer shading and rhythmic subtlety to recondition conservative picks like “Winter Wonderland” and more thoughtfully chosen tunes, such as Ted Shapiro’s 1941 composition “Winter Weather” and John Leslie McFarland’s “Kissing By The Mistletoe.”

David Ian album cover

David Ian
Vintage Christmas Trio

Pianist David Ian, a native Canadian with polite merriness to share, has delivered Vintage Christmas Trio, his third and best holiday release. Supported by the fine acoustic bassist Jon Estes and the agile drummer Josh Hunt, Ian explores the strengths of “Silver Bells,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Up On The Housetop” and seven more tunes. Ian has an intelligent playing style, always avoiding the weak emotion that plagues less thoughtful musicians.

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