If you have been searching long and hard for a serious acoustic jazz trio (piano, bass and drums) performing a collection of Christmas tunes, Christmas with the Steve Rudolph Trio just might bring an end to your holiday musical quest. Rudolph takes a non-compromising approach to ten Christmas classics with the collaboration of Matt Wilson on drums and Paul Langosch on acoustic bass. The arrangements are fresh and the playing is swinging and expertly executed.
Rudolph was born in 1949 in Evansville, Indiana. Beginning the musical journey as a trumpet player, Rudolph did not make the transition to piano until the age of 22. Since that time, Rudolph has toured the world with the Harrisburg Symphony and Miami's New World Symphony (the latter as a soloist), in addition to receiving honors from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Jazz Fellowship in 1995 and Jazz Composers Fellowship 2001. Rudolph earned the best Emerging Artist at the Jazz Times Convention in New York City in 1998 and again in 1999 and took top honors in "Jazziz" magazine's Seven Springs Jazz Festival Piano Competition.
Rudolph’s re-harmonization of the pieces establishes a perfect constitution that supports extended blowing while still maintaining the cohesiveness of the original Christmas Classics. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" employs the use of pedal tones and extensive use of pentatonics to bring this Christmas classic in to the sonorities of the modern jazz age. The arrangement provides a duality of tension and release with the A sections of the melody being supported by the pedal tones and the B section releasing into an up-tempo walking swing. Also noteworthy here is the interaction of the band with Rudolph’s extended phrases.
"Let It Snow" displays Rudolph’s more traditional side with the nice use of block chords interspersed with swinging solo lines that smack the beat in a way that must be answered with foot tapping! Wilson provides a nice melodic drum solo that keeps this mid-tempo swing moving. "We Three Kings" is given a great funky treatment by bassist Langosch that is overlaid with interesting piano colors (string strumming) by Rudolph. The arrangement moves to a four/four swing pulse for the melody and switches between the two feels for the blowing. Langosch’s rich sounding bass sounds share the solo space with Rudolph’s melodic phrasing.
This is a highly recommended collection of ten Christmas Classics reworked by an interactive and inventive piano trio. Christmas with the Steve Rudolph Trio is an essential listen for all jazz connoisseurs, especially if you enjoy the likes of McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea.