December 2001

Nancy Wilson - A Nancy Wilson Christmas
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild/Telarc MCGJ1008
Released: 2001

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]A Nancy Wilson Christmas CD is a charitable project, with proceeds going to the jazz program at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, which is a multi-discipline minority-directed arts and learning center in Pittsburgh. Manufactured and distributed by Telarc, under license from the MCG, it is also a great Christmas album.

I have always had an affinity for jazz Christmas albums. Perhaps this goes back to my fondness for the classic Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi, whose work is represented here by "Christmas Time Is Here." There is also a generous mix of both traditional and modern Christmas songs in this collection, but it is Wilson's jazz vocals that really make this album so choice. Her wonderful interpretations and effortless vocals are captured here with near-reference-recording quality which sets this CD apart from half-hearted Christmas album efforts.

The arrangements are varied, and range from a big band sound to various intimate, small instrumental ensembles. This variety of musical styles prevents the album from becoming monotonous. Even within the individual styles there is variation, most demonstrably with the tracks that feature the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Star Big Band. For example, "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" is a relatively straightforward performance by both Wilson and the band, while "Silver Bells" features more playful and interpretive vocals and instrumentation. Even more to the point is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," one of the swingin’est Christmas carols I have ever heard. Other highlights include The New York Voices on "Carol of the Bells" and on the melodic, soulful rendition of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."

This disc's sonics are exemplary. The instruments are rendered with fidelity that captures the dynamics of the big band sound, as well as the subtle ambience of the smaller arrangements. However, it is the recorded quality of Ms. Wilson’s voice that continually impresses. She images solidly, with plenty of body and power. While closely-miked vocals may have a very immediate sound, they sometimes also exhibit a sibilant or spitty characteristic, that's not the case with this disc. Wilson’s voice is vivid and forceful, yet never loses its focus even when she is belting out a particularly boisterous tune. From the opening bars of the mellow "White Christmas" to the raucous "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," Wilson’s voice remains solidly placed in the soundstage and images precisely amongst the nicely layered instrumentation.

A Nancy Wilson Christmas is a conventional jazz Christmas album if there is such a thing, but think of it more as an upper echelon audiophile jazz recording that also happens to be a Christmas album. In addition, all of the proceeds from the sale of the album go to a good cause. What other incentive do you need to get this CD?