Yuletide Music Roundup for 2019


Sadiki Pierre (left) and Elasea Douglas of the duo Acute Inflections have a new holiday album titled In December.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

Despite all the machinations the music industry has experienced throughout the decades, including numerous format changes, one thing has remained constant: In autumn, a windfall of new jazz, blues and Beyond albums are released to celebrate the Christmas and Hanukkah season. And every year, thankfully, there are several albums that stand apart from the deluge of lackluster mainstream pop and country releases.

John Basile
Silent Night

(StringTime Jazz Productions)

Jazz guitarist John Basile projects the gentle joy of the season throughout his solo album Silent Night. A skilled craftsman, he unites guitar improvisations with current MIDI programming technology for layers of textures. The clear lucidity of Basile’s elegant fingerstyle style—combined with occasional use of overdubbed guitar parts to create interplay—revives the title track and the other familiar tunes in the 12-track program. (There’s also one original, the dreamy “Lulladay.”) Basile, who has recorded with the likes of guitarist John Abercrombie and vibraphonist Joe Locke, also freshens up the material using Latin rhythmic pulses. Basile manages to convey delicate emotion while avoiding any distracting affectations. His bebop inclinations shine on “Toyland.”

BUY IT NOW: John Basile

Eden Brent
Eden Brent Christmas
(Yellow Dog)

Singer and pianist Eden Brent, a Mississippi native who is a fixture on the international blues scene, brings ample jazz-and-blues holiday cheer to her first holiday album, An Eden Brent Christmas. She has made certain that a dozen seasonal tunes arranged by her English husband, Bob Dowell, combine the warmth of individual feeling with the appeal of familiar melodies. Featuring her voice more than the 88 keys, Brent is particularly adept at deploying a Ruth Brown-style sass on the r&b classic “Merry Christmas Baby.” She is backed by a crackerjack, horn-fueled band made up of Memphis-based players. Dowell, an alumnus of the Royal Academy of Music, has commendable instincts too, soloing on trombone and injecting his charts with swing. The couple has a blast singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” their testimonial to spousal love at Christmastime.

BUY IT NOW: Eden Brent

Ben Paterson
Be Thanking Santa

With bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Charles Goold in attentive support, Ben Paterson plays piano so well throughout I’ll Be Thanking Santa that this album could reach the status of Christmas jazz classic. Exceptionally assured, Paterson has a natural way of granting new sparkle to routine material, such as “Winter Wonderland,” “O Tannenbaum” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Patterson works up a light sweat unfurling a surprising Christmas tune that’s long been popular in the Philippines, “Pasko Na Naman.” He also offers listeners joyful tidings as a talented singer and composer: Fans will savor the engaging “Christmas, Won’t You Stick Around For A While” and “I’ll Be Thanking Santa.” Let’s hope Paterson, also a wizard on the Hammond B-3, considers a Christmas organ album in the future.

BUY IT NOW: Ben Paterson

Leon Redbone

In the mid-1970s, mysterious Leon Redbone (1949–2019) appeared out of nowhere (actually Toronto, though he wouldn’t confirm it), rattling the pop world with his guitar work, rough-sandpaper voice and a repertoire of near-parodic treatments of old-time blues, folk, jazz, ragtime and Tin Pan Alley tunes. Still not tied to any one genre in 1988, and as antiquated and eccentric as ever, Redbone released Christmas Island, which now has been reissued. Performing popular fare, he fashions musical moods of cozy serenity and slightly drowsy cheer. Redbone perks up, though, for the Hawaiian-flavored “Christmas Island” and a daffy sleigh ride with Dr. John, “Frosty The Snowman.” (A younger generation of fans might know the troubadour’s name because he voiced the animated character Leon the Snowman in the classic 2003 Christmas film Elf.)

BUY IT NOW: Leon Redbone

All The Way

The vocal group Accent reacts to the specialness of the holiday season with Christmas All The Way. These six singers, from the United States, Canada and three European countries, exult something outstanding in their a cappella rendering of the Swedish classic “Jul, Jul Stralande Jul.” They hit it off in tandem with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band on “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” The latter tune features a trumpet solo from an esteemed guest: Arturo Sandoval.

BUY IT NOW: Accent

Acute Inflections

Often heard at posh hotels in Manhattan, the Acute Inflections duo of singer Elasea Douglas and upright bassist Sadiki Pierre share a heartbeat for the popular carols they play on In December. Douglas’ lovely voice meshes with Pierre’s rich, thumping tones throughout the program, whether they’re reworking “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Christmas Time Is Here” or offering their pleasant original composition “In December.”

BUY IT NOW: Acute Inflections

Isthmus Brass
We Need
A Little Christmas

Conducted by esteemed composer-educator John Stevens, the 12-piece, Wisconsin-based ensemble Isthmus Brass delivers its second holiday album with We Need A Little Christmas. Founder/tubist Mike Forbes and all the other horn players, along with drummer Keith Lienert, are Christmas music connoisseurs with jazz and classical backgrounds whose expert use of mood, form and color are at the service of a true joy in performing carefully chosen tunes. Serious beauty informs “Ave Maria,” “Wexford Carol” and “Russian Christmas Music,” while sheer fun propels the sled occupied by “Frosty The Snowman,” with its thundering Gene Krupa-like drums. There is a graceful finesse about the outstanding arrangements by band members and Roger Harvey.

BUY IT NOW: Isthmus Brass

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Band Holidays II

The most revered big band in the land, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, follows up its 2015 seasonal concert album with Big Band Holidays II, which compiles highlights from the past four Jazz at Lincoln Center holiday shows. Key to the band’s appeal as a first-tier large ensemble is how assuredly the musicians embrace famous carols (“Silver Bells,” “We Three Kings”) and less common chestnuts (“Cool Yule,” popularized by Louis Armstrong, and Percy Faith’s “Brazilian Sleigh Bells,” arranged by Carlos Henriquez), incorporating crosscurrents of serious jazz business and seasonal gaiety. The Claude Thornton classic “Snowfall,” arranged by Sherman Irby, defines elegance. Featured vocalists include venerated jazz veteran Catherine Russell, rising star Veronica Swift and Canadian treasure Denzal Sinclaire. Bearing a special sort of glad tidings is the late, great Aretha Franklin, alone, singing and playing piano on “O Tannenbaum.”

BUY IT NOW: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

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