Media

Holiday Music Reviews - December, 2008

Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride and Other Holiday Favorites • Naxos 8.559621

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Holiday music Leroy AndersonGloom is banished with this delightful collection of Leroy Anderson’s holiday music. While some dismiss the American composer’s achievements as second-rate, there’s no question that classics such as “Sleigh Ride” and “Suite of Carols for Brass Choir” speak with irresistible color and sonority. Leonard Slatkin has made Anderson’s orchestral music a specialty, recording multiple volumes for Naxos. With considerable care lavished on capturing the full impact of the BBC Concert Orchestra, this CD is a wonderful treat.


Spyro Gyra: A Night Before Christmas • Heads Up HUCD3145

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Holiday Music Spyro GyraNominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album of 2008, the 27-year old jazz ensemble serves up Christmas-lite on this very well recorded CD. Performances are given extra boosts by the illustrious guest artsist, who include Christine Ebersole (vocals on “It Won’t Feel Like Christmas”), Janis Siegel and Bonny B (having a ball with the vocals on “Baby It’s Cold Outside”), and unobtrusively smooth vibraphonist Dave Samuels. This may not be the most stimulating fare, but it’s perfect for eggnog.


Sirba Octet & Isabelle Georges: Du Shtetl a New York • Ambroise AM173

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Holiday Music Sirba OctetNot a Hanukkah album per se, but Jewish to the core, this delightful album pairs the French octet and vocalist Isabelle Georges in repertoire that spans the distance between the Jewish shtetls (small towns) of Europe to the United States. Tracing the journey of the 600,000 Jews who fled the old country between the end of the 19th century and WW II, the CED includes traditional Yiddish songs and classics by Lorenz Hart, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, “Yip” Harburg, the Gershwins, and other composers. Drawn from a show based on the documentary From the Shtetl to Broadway, the music is a constant delight.


John Fahey: The John Fahey Christmas Album • Burnside 4

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Holiday Music John FaheyWhen I was first exploring altered states of consciousness in the sixties, John Fahey’s magical guitar helped open portals to the beyond. Many years later, his steel-stringed plucking still touches a special place. With occasional assistance from cello, flutes, piano, and “effects,” the simplicity of the patient wizard’s strumming will affect you plenty. There’s a lot of joy on this album of classics, as well as a lifetime of experience.


Montréal Baroque: Bach Cantatas 61, 122, 123, 182 • Atma Classique SACD2 2403

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Holiday Music Montreal Baroque BachOur joyful Bach entry of the season, recorded in high-resolution surround sound, unites Eric Milnes’ Montréal Bach ensemble with excellent soloists Monika Mauch, Matthew White, Charles Daniels, and Harry Van Der Kamp. The emphasis is on lightness and joy, as authentic instruments bubbling away while the four soloists sing double duty as the chorus.


Kristin Chenoweth: A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas • Sony Classical 88697-34256-2

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Holiday Music Kristin ChenowethLooking fabulous, and singing at her endearing, slightly nasal, little girl cutesy best, Kristin Chenoweth charmingly melds pop and Broadway styles while teasing her way through a sometimes-droll selection of holiday ditties. “Christmas Island” gets the big band plus chorus treatment, “Sleigh Ride / Marshmallow World” recruits smooth vocalist John Pizzarelli for the journey, and “What Child is This?” is designed to delight the Sarah Brightman groupies of the world. With orchestra and rhythm tracks recorded in Hollywood, this ultra-polished package will thrill those for whom surface gloss shines major.


Musica Intima: O Nata Lux • Atma Classique ACD2 2577

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Holiday Music Musica IntimaVancouver scores a shining star with its superb, 12-voice a capella choral ensemble. The singing is warm, open, and consistently beautiful. Musica Intima’s holiday repertoire spans centuries, from the classical “In Dulci Jubilo” and 12th century Wexford Carol to songs by Britten, Whitacre, Howells, and other modern composers. The title track, 22-year old Seth Garrepy’s “O Nata Lux,” is a harmonious bath of light and grace that blends ancient and modern. Recorded in the spacious, clear acoustic of Église St-Augustin de Mirabel in Québec, this could very easily become my favorite Christmas recording of 2008.


A Jazz & Blues Christmas • Putamayo PUT 285-2

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Holiday Music Jazz and bluesBefore things start feeling  too holy for comfort, put on this album and groove away. Start off with B.B. King’s “Christmas Celebration,” Ray Charles’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeemr” and The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “Here Comes Santa Claus.” These ten tracks will shake the mold out of anyone’s notion of Christmas. While Putamayo manages to remaster tracks recorded over a span of 46 years to make them sound remarkably uniform, nothing can dim the life in these fabulous renditions. Fun, fun, fun.


Imani Winds: This Christmas with Imani Winds • Koch KIC-CD-7748

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Holiday Music Imani WindsThese silly, silly people. They must have had loads of fun playing “Jingle Bells,” with five winds bubbling away on founder Valerie Coleman’s delightful arrangement. (You’ll love the surprise ending). French hornist Jeff Scott’s arrangement of Anderson’s perennial “Sleigh Ride” recruits the requisite bells from percussionist Javier Diaz, who next joins pianist Jason Moran to bring a decidedly jazz tinge to “Silent Night.” Imani Winds’ roots may be in classical music, but they’ve loosened up quite a bit in their years before the public. If you don’t love this fabulous album, it’s time to join George W. Bush’s efforts to achieve Armageddon before the sun sets.


Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy & Peace • Sony Classical 88697-24424-2

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Holiday Music Yo Yo MaAs usual, the great Ma plays wonderfully. After the incomparable richness of his cello graces “Dona Nobis Pacem,” we lighten up with Diana Krall and John Clayton on “You Couldn’t be Cuter.” And so it goes: Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Natalie macMaster, Alison Krauss, the Assad brothers, Pacquito D’Rivera, Joshua Redman, Dave and Matt Brubeck, Wu Tong and The Silk Road Ensemble, and others whose names I probably should recognize make far more than token efforts. From James Taylor’s vocals on George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” to opera diva Renée Fleming morphing into a convincingly husky-voiced balladeer to deliver a multi-tracked duet with herself on Blossom Dearie’s lovely “Touch the Hand of Love,” this is a lovely album overflowing with good feeling. Which is exactly what you’d expect from that great bridger of the cultural divide, Yo-Yo Ma.


Tom Barabas: Magic in December • Soundings of the Planet SP-7203

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Holiday Music Tom BarabasThis reissue of a 1988 recording, complete with a tinkly piano, has the air of early digital and Yamaha about it. Nonetheless, the Hungarian-born Barabas, who has opened for a number of jazz greats, has the feel and lightness of Christmas about him. Played softly in the background, this CD will certainly boost your holiday spirit.