Well, the artists of Jazz Yule Love II are not intimidated by the material and they transform well-known Christmas songs into invigorating, well, yes, exciting, jazz interpretations that stand on their own merits. Significantly, the CD refers to "Jazz yule love" not "Christmas songs you already love." Producer Gretchen Valade obviously is pleased with the results. Not only has she realized the need for another volume of Jazz Yule Love, but also she seems unable to contain her enthusiasm for the results. In her brief liner notes description, she writes about Sean Jones "blowing his heart out" or Gerald Wilson’s arrangements being "beautifully executed."
Valade no doubt was responsible for the sequencing of the tracks for Jazz Yule Love II kicks off in high spirits not with standard Christmas references at all, but with a joyous jazz-induced turning-inside-out of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." With Sean Jones leading this iconoclastic group, the song provides material for blazing trumpet work, for Orrin Evans’s rippling piano solo as he rips through an exhilarating chorus and for cohesive group interpretation. Jones’s introductory clarion call doesn’t refer in any way to the singing pattern of "Have yourself a" even as he plays four times the first four note of the song.
Next, Gerald Wilson has applied his legendary arranging skills to "Jingle Bells," which at first deceives as Ron Blake’s flute weaves through the melody over the sleigh bells. Delightful as are all of his others, Wilson’s arrangement promote a group sound as he re-harmonizes the tune, adding saxophone accents and muted trumpets and shifting meters to achieve his vision of the scene he depicts.
Two of the surprises of Jazz Yule Love on this album of surprises come from Oscar Castro-Neves and Hot Club of Detroit. First, Castro-Neves is the sole musician on the production of "Air on a Six String," based on the similarly titled Bach theme, as he layers his keyboard work over his own acoustic guitar playing and singing, adding a Brazilian flavor to the Christmas favorite. But his whirling, infectious arrangement of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" puts the tune in a more elastic, more Latin-influenced environment that allows for Castro-Neves’ straightforward guitar improvisation over the changes. When the Hot Club of Detroit tackles the "Chipmunk Song," this apparently simple, uninspiring Christmas song performed first on accordion transforms chorus by chorus into a rousing celebration with Dixieland references that make this version a classic.
Jazz Yule Love also offers veterans like Bud Shank bending notes, rasping notes and improvising with his well-known clarity on "Let It Snow" with consummate professionals like Mike Wofford, Bob Magnusson and Joe LaBarbera. The CD ends with the Oscar Brown, Jr. singing his own ironic composition of "Another Year." Of course another year will pass, but without Brown’s sorely missed wit and musical presence.
Jazz Yule Love (and you will!) may be the Christmas CD that jazz enthusiasts are seeking. It doesn’t compromise the jazz and yet it retains the spirit of the holidays.