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Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays by Various

Plenty of music exists to excite families about the Christmas holidays, particularly when they step into a retail store anytime between Halloween and Christmas day itself. And of course, centuries of religious music address the spiritual aspects of the holiday. However, not as much music is available to put people in the mood to take a deep breath when they may be at wit’s end from over-scheduling holiday events, travel plans, last-minute shopping, meal preparations or entertaining duties, particularly for large family gatherings of people who rarely see each other otherwise.

A bonus for jazz listeners is that this music for relaxation comes from Telarc’s roster of superb and, in most cases, legendary jazz artists, a credit to Telarc’s welcome dedication to the art form even as it continued to record some of these musicians late in their careers.

Take Oscar Peterson, for example. He leads the CD in quietude and serenity, quite a change of pace from his earlier ferocity on the piano with his ground-breaking groups like his trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. On "White Christmas" from An Oscar Peterson Christmas, Peterson instead is a calming influence on vibraphonist Dave Samuels, unexpectedly so, though he’s consistent with the Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays theme of the album. Mel Tormé too gets into a mellow mood for the holidays, though he has been known to break loose with single-minded attack when he cushions "Christmastime Is Here" with his own velvet fog.

Speaking of Ray Brown, he appears on Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays with his own sorely missed trio, consisting in this instance of Geoff Keezer on piano and Greg Hutchinson on drums. This track from Christmas Songs with the Ray Brown Trio features Kevin Mahogany as he gives voice to "The Christmas Song" (oddly enough not sung by its composer Mel Tormé on this CD).

More legendary musicians? Well, there’s Dave Brubeck on several tracks, performing alone and of course with apparent relaxation on "Silent Night." His left hand playing upswept phrases under the plain chords of the right hand before Brubeck darkens the harmonization between choruses. Brubeck’s version of a "Farewell" from "Jingle Bells" is reminiscent of some of his signature changes from say "Strange Meadowlark" or the Mr. Broadway album as the melody remains identifiable, but the harmonies shift fully underneath with wistful consideration. The unexpected treat of the Brubeck tracks is the addition of Gerry Mulligan on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," which they perform jauntily as a duo, recalling their unforgettable work on Compadres, recorded live in Mexico.

There’s George Shearing on "Donkey Carol" from his Christmas with the George Shearing Quintet album. Don Thompson’s talents added to create the vibraphone textures for which Shearing’s quintets have been known for decades from Marjorie Hyams through Gary Burton through Warren Chasen through Cal Tjader. Light and delicate with unmistakable Shearing swing, "Donkey Carol," due in no small part to Neil Swainson’s buoyant bass work as well, is typically elegant, and yet consistent with the emotional ease that the album intends to induce.

Or there’s Jim Hall playing "O Tannenbaum" alone, seemingly in unembellished acoustic relaxed fashion at first in apparent tribute to its folkloric origins. But as would be expected, Hall throws in a few twists of his own to personalize the song, balancing it between modern chord voicings and traditional celebratory expression.

During those calm moments of the holidays or during those moments where you want to summon some calmness in the midst of frenzy or pressure, Christmas Break offers the best of both worlds, music for reflection and relaxation combined with the satisfying subtle musical twists performed by masters of the jazz art form.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various
  • CD Title: Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays
  • Genre: Holiday Jazz
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Telarc
  • Tracks: White Christmas, Christmastime Is Here, O Tannenbaum, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Donkey Carol, The Christmas Song, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Ave Maria, “Farewell” Jingle Bells
  • Musicians: Featured Performers: Mel Tormé, Jeanie Bryson (vocals); Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone); Oscar Peterson, Kenny Barron, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing (piano); Jim Hall, Al Di Meola (guitar); Ray Brown (bass) Additional Artists: Kevin Mahogany (vocals); John Colianni, Geoff Keezer (piano); Lorne Lofsky, Louis Stewart, Reg Swager, Russell Malone (guitar); Dave Samuels, Don Thompson (vibraphone); David Young, John Leitham, Ray Drummond, Neil Swainson (bass); Jerry Fuller, Donny Osborne, Ron Davies, Allan Ganley, Dennis Mackrel, Gregory Hutchinson (drums); Cincinnati Sinfonietta, Keith Lockart (conductor)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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