Writing about Jimmy Smiths Christmas Cookin in The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, Richard Cook and Brian Morton refer to the disc as "the best in a hapless genre." "Hapless" it may be, but holiday music can be a welcome tonic to the commercialism of the season. As Ive noted elsewhere, at least part of my collection is devoted to music I can listen to while holding a glass of eggnog. One of my favorites, aside from the Jimmy Smith, is Stan Kentons A Merry Christmas, which features the Kenton orchestra in a series of hard-swinging arrangements of holiday classics (yes, I know some would dispute the use of the word "swinging" to describe Kenton, but that discussion is for another article).
Carol of the Bells, the new Yuletide disc by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, takes its place beside Kentons set as one of my seasonal jazz essentials. Buselli, on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Wallarab, on trombone, co-lead this Midwest-based band in 12 exciting charts of well-known Christmas tunes, including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song," both of which feature the beautiful deep baritone of singer Everett Greene, who sings on half the tracks. The band is particularly impressive on two Vince Guaraldi compositions, "Skating" and "Christmastime is Here," both originally from the soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Wallarab, who wrote all the arrangements on the disc, expands on Guaraldis tunes, using the orchestra to create dynamic, fresh interpretations of songs that I, for one, have heard hundreds of times.
Carol of the Bells is very well recorded -- spacious and rich, with each orchestral section clearly delineated. Its an intelligent, very well-done jazz disc -- so good I might even be tempted to play it after the holiday season passes.
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