Probably the last thing anyone would ever expect to come from cutting edge jazz label Origin Records, would be a traditionally-oriented jazz Christmas album, but that is exactly what we get in this release from vocalist Greta Matassa, and bassist and vocalist Clipper Anderson. If there is anything cutting edge about this release, it’s in the fact so many of these Christmas songs are rarities. For example, “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle” comes from the Tijuana Brass Christmas recording, and “The First Snowfall” was originally recorded by Spike Jones.
Matassa is a Seattle-based vocalist and vocal teacher, and bassist and vocalist Clipper Anderson is a teacher at Pacific Lutheran University. Among the artists Anderson has appeared with include Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Bruce Forman, Benny Golson, Bob Mintzer, Bucky Pizzarelli and Lew Soloff, to name just a few.
Together and separately each of the leaders has a pleasant voice in a lighter-than-normally-found vein. Their vocal timbres, however, are not unpleasant, with many moments reminding one of the old Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians recordings.
While this album won’t beat you over the head with anything startling, it is a well conceived and executed project. The inclusion of a few children’s’ voices on “It’s Christmas” is perfect, and Matassa’s vocal rejoinders are well placed following the kids. “It’s Christmas Time” gets a sweet reading and Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings” is one of those songs that should be included on every Christmas album.
Special mention to pianist Darin Clendenin is especially needed. His playing is tactful, locked solidly within the rhythm of each chart, and he lays out the harmonies in such a perfect manner it’s almost as if he’s unfolding the music rather than playing it. Absolutely brilliant.
For those looking for a nice, sweet and subtle Christmas album to play while trimming the tree, one that will make you remember your childhood and how Christmas music of that time was not commercially oriented, you should start here.