When I spun Trio West Plays Holiday Songs for the first time, what really appealed to me was the intimacy that was created on this album by Tobias T. Gebb (drummer, arranger, producer), Eldad Zvulun (piano), bass player Neal Miner and bass player (tracks 1, 10, 12) Miles Brown. Zvulun’s piano sensibilities, particularly on the opening two tracks "O Tannenbaum" and "Silent Night," put you in a front-row seat of a cozy lounge. Although this is a studio production, the artists have retained the warmth of a live performance, something that is rare in today’s world of technological wizardry.
Gebb’s gentle drumming, an oxymoron I am sure in some circles, contribute to the gentle interpretations of "O Tannenbaum" and "Silent Night" as he makes liberal use of his brushes and he wields a pair of soft drumsticks. Gebb created new arrangements for "Silent Night," which lengthens the song, reminds us that this is still a jazz CD, but at the same time remains respectful to the original composition.
In terms of song selection, there are not a lot of surprises as the songs are all seasonal classics or carols, including "What Child Is This," "Winter Wonderland," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "I’ll Be Home For Christmas." "Christmas Time Is Here," a song written by Vince Gauraldi and Lee Mendelson, but forever linked to Charles M. Schulz’s character Charlie Brown, is contemplative. We remember the scraggly Christmas tree that Charlie Brown brought to the Christmas pageant and the reminder that all of us are deserving of unconditional love.
Trio West takes a very lyrical approach to their music and that is particularly noticeable with "Winter Wonderland" and the Mel Torme/Robert Wells’s tune "The Christmas Song." If you didn’t know the words to these songs, I suspect that you would find yourself improvising lyrics to accompany the ensemble’s emotive playing.
When it comes to Christmas songs, I tend to be a traditionalist and know how I like my familiar tunes to sound, but Trio West’s CD really got under my skin in a good way. For instance, I quite enjoyed "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," which combines the traditional with new and livelier arrangements. I would not refer to this as a solemn or humble offering, but I do think it is celebratory and for Christians, that is exactly what Christmas is supposed to represent.
I really liked bassist Neal Miner’s emotive playing on Frank Loesser’s "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve," a song that is further enhanced by the romantic inflections of pianist Zvulun, serving up proof that not all sentimental tunes need words to evoke a strong emotional response. If you are making a shopping list for Christmas music, the CD Trio West Plays Holiday Songs should be on it.