Portland, Oregon based vocalist, keyboardist, composer and arranger Matt Molnar’s second self-produced CD is a Christmas disc. This short, less than 28 minutes in length, recording features five holiday season standards and two originals. Accompanied by fellow musicians from the northwest, the overall effect is one of light jazz which borders closely on smooth jazz.
As a vocalist, Molnar is neither a crooner nor a jazz singer. Instead, his style and range leans more heavily towards a delicate musical theatreish bent. As a keyboardist, he is capable and writes the arrangements to focus more on his compatriots. It is as a song arranger that Molnar excels. His rockish take on "We Three Kings" is actually rather delightful in a softly tongue-in-cheek manner, "Silver Bells" reminds one of the classic Chipmunk’s version and "Do You Hear" is finally recorded in a cleverly syncopated manner.
The musicians accompanying Molnar are all capable. Eli Reisman’s electric guitar is just electric enough without falling out of the overall music theatre concept. Renato Caranto’s tenor solo on "Kings" is tasteful and soulful at the same time and his solo on "Grandma’s House" is all about channeling Clarence Clemons. Tim Jensen’s flute is as lush as a flute can sound and Drew Shoals’ drumming is in perfect lock-step with the arrangements, powerful when required and downy when not.
The two original compositions are quite different from each other. "Going On Holiday" is a non-descript instrumental while "Christmas At Grandma’s House" is a cute look at family celebrations held at the home of the elderly. The best part of the disc, however, is Kevin Nettleingham’s vocals on "Do You Hear What I Hear." This way-too-often-recorded song finally gets a modern re-treatment that is deserving of its story. Her ability to bring out Molnar’s spritely syncopated figures with polish, all the while keeping her vocal tone warm and full-bodied, is the highlight of the disc.
For those looking for a different kind of Christmas disc to throw on your multi-disc player’s random play setting during your holiday party, especially if you want something that will not sound like anything else out there, one can do little better than to start here.