I’ve received about a half dozen new holiday titles worth mentioning this year and I’m going to try to get them all covered by December 15 so you’ll have time to actually buy one that looks interesting and enjoy it. If you’re reading this too late, well, there’s always Christmas in July.
The Count Basie Orchestra kept going after Basie’s death and has made many new recordings. Long time Basie trumpeter Scotty Barnhart currently leads. This year, the band has released A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas on the Concord Jazz label. The play list is almost entirely secular (“Jingle Bells,” “The Christmas Song,” ” Little Drummer Boy,” etc) but there is one nod to the religious aspect of the season – “Silent Night.” Revelations are many. “Little Drummer Boy” swings as Kansas City Jazz, “Sleigh Ride” is brassy and sassy in a chart by Gordon Goodwin, and you can guess the nature of “Good ‘Swing’ Wencelas” by its title. Guests include Ellis Marsalis, Ledisi, Carmen Bradford, and Johnny Mathis, who amazes with a spirited version of “It’s the Holiday Season.” Mathis has just turned 80 and shows no signs of stopping. And speaking of 80, this disc also celebrates the Basie Band’s 80th anniversary. It’s the best pop/jazz album this year. Treat yourself. Oh yes, it has demonstration caliber sound, too!
A little over ten years ago, the United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants released a holiday album titled Make the Season Bright. It’s been re-released this year by Klavier Records and sounds like it’s been re-mastered for superb fidelity. The approach is slick and smooth with virtuoso playing and excellent singing. Highlights include a narrated version of The Polar Express and “Variations on a West County Carol,” which turns out to be “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The approach is spirited throughout, with sentiment sometimes replaced by dazzle.