New Holiday Music! –

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Tis the season. Treasurable Christmas jazz albums from the past are getting gift-wrapped again. The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (first out in 1965, with multiple reissues since) returns as a vinyl record from Craft, its jacket decked with a silver foil. Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas (1960) comes to town with Santa one more time as part of the Verve Acoustic Sounds line of record releases. And Duke Pearson’s Merry Ole Soul (1969) now appears in the Blue Note Classic Vinyl Reissue Series. There’s plenty of other newly released holiday music to check out, too; a few of the albums reviewed below may even stand the test of time. And check out our entire Gift Guide from the December issue HERE.

Norah Jones
I Dream Of Christmas (Blue Note)
Back in 2012, Norah Jones showed she was good company for Christmas by recording the single “Home For The Holidays” with Cyndi Lauper. Further holiday music activity in the studio hasn’t followed … until now. Worth the wait, her initial Yule album, the equivalent of a box of cherry cordials, has her determined to find new ways to freshen standards such as “White Christmas,” “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Winter Wonderland.” For a surprise, she lends maturity to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” a 1960s pop bagatelle recast here as a stroll through Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans. With her phrasing and breath control ever so precise, the singer also connects clear-eyed emotional concentration with a holiday feel in thoughtful songs of her own. Temperamentally and musically attuned to Jones’ personality are producer-saxophonist Leon Michels and other colleagues like drummer Brian Blade and bassist Tony Scheer.

Jeff Hamilton Trio
Merry & Bright (Capri)
Over the last 20-plus years, five albums by Jeff Hamilton Trio featuring the drummer and pianist Tamir Hendelman have engendered considerable acclaim. (Current bass player Jon Hamar came aboard in 2018.) The winning streak continues with their first perusal of the Yule songbook, yielding fresh-as-newly-fallen-snow revisions of standards “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy” as well as two unexpected delights composed by 1940s/’50s jazz man Alfred Burt: “Caroling Caroling” and “Bright Bright The Holy Berries.” Hendelman endears himself to the melodies but he’s really on his game stretching out a bit in medium-tempo and ballad arrangements. The stimulating sense of creativity in the studio and the overall warm vibe of the music is also attributable to Hamilton and Hamar. As expected, the trio leader plays with easy lyricism; he has keen, unstudied instincts and a sublime time feel. Jeff Hamilton Trio Christmas jazz is like hot mulled cider: mildly exhilarating, a little sweet, perfect for the moment. </…….


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