The holiday season is officially here, and while Christmas is still more than two months away, many people are (wisely) already starting to make their plans as to where and how to spend the big day and the days leading up to said day. Blue Engine Records will help revelers get into the holiday spirit later this month with the release of the new Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Christmas music compilation, Big Band Holidays II. Set for release Oct. 25, this 11 song compilation of live performances from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will come almost four years after the release of its predecessor. It stands out from that record, and other holiday music offerings that will soon hit store shelves and digital retailers in part because of its featured songs. This will be addressed shortly. The performances of said songs plays into the compilation’s presentation just as much as the songs themselves. They will be addressed a little later. The compilation’s collective mixing and production round play their own crucial collective role to the whole of the presentation, too. They will also be addressed later. Each item noted here is key in its own way to the overall presentation of Big Band Holidays II. All things considered, they make the recording a work that is in its own way, a welcome presentation that Christmas and Christmas music lovers appreciate.
Music is one of the most important parts of the holidays when it comes to setting the mood for gatherings of family and friends. The problem is that it is so difficult to find holiday music compilations that stand out from the masses each year. Thankfully, Blue Engine Records will release later this month, a compilation that actually does stand out in the form of Big Band Holidays II. The latest holiday music offering from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, this collection of live holiday performances stands out in part because of its featured songs. While the recording does feature some holiday standards, such as ‘We Three Kings,’ ‘Silver Bells’ and ‘Silent Night,’ it also features just as many (if not more) songs that are far less familiar and common on any other act’s holiday music compilations. ‘Brazilian Sleigh Bells’ is definitely not something that American audiences can expect to find from holiday music recordings from other big bands. The same can be said of ‘Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow,’ ‘Cool Yule’ and ‘(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag’ as well as ‘What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swinging).’ ‘Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow’ might show up on holiday collections from perhaps the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but otherwise, it is not something that most listeners can expect to find in holiday music collections from most popular music artists and acts. Keeping that in mind, listeners looking for some kind of diversity for their holiday music settings will appreciate just that from this recording. The familiar tunes are there, but so are pieces that are less familiar and commonplace. That in itself forms a strong foundation for this recording. It is just one of the items that makes the compilation so enjoyable. The performances of the recording’s songs add their own interest to the record.
The performances of this recording’s featured songs did not come from just one performance of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. They were taken from performances that the organization conducted between 2015 and 2018. That means that listeners get not just one performance from one concert, but various snippets of the group’s live show from different points in time. That is just the start of why the performances are so important to the recording. The actual performances themselves play their own key part in its whole. Veronica Swift’s vocal performance couples with the performance of the orchestra on ‘Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag’ is like something right out of the big band era. Swift’s presence is completely engaging and entertaining, conjuring thoughts of great big band singers, such as Helen Forrest, Martha Tilton and Bea Wain. The energy in her performance, coupled with that of the orchestra’s members, makes this performance feel like a gem long locked in some time capsule way back in the golden age of the big band and finally released after all these decades. That is the power of the group’s performance here. Much the same can be said of fellow singer Catherine Russel’s work with the group on ‘What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swinging).’ The group’s bluesy take of ‘Silent Night,’ which features vocals from Denzel Sinclair and Audrey Shakir is yet another example of the importance of this recording’s performances. Composer Victor Goines’ take on the holiday standard gives the typically very somber song a whole new identity and life that is so welcome because it is so unexpected. Rather than taking the usual noted tone, Goines opted for a more bluesy-mid-tempo arrangement that will leave any listener tapping his or her toes. The group’s take on ‘Rise up, Shepherd, And Follow’ gives even that standard its own identity, moving it more in the direction of an Andrew Lloyd Weber type work than the more solemn vibe that it might have in a church setting. At the same time, it boasts the band’s own jazz sensibility, giving it that much more of a unique identity. There are no vocals here to accompany the group; just the musicians. Even with that in mind, the song stands out because the performance is so unique both in comparison to other arrangements of the song and to the other performances featured in this collection. It’s just one more way in which the performances featured in the recording stand out. One could just as easily cite the other noted performances in showing why they are so important to the whole of the recording. All things considered, the performances of this recording’s featured songs build on the foundation formed by the songs and make the recording that much more interesting.
While the songs and performances featured in Big Band Holidays II are both critical in their own way to the whole of the recording, they are just a portion of what makes the recording stand out. Its collective mixing and production adds even more enjoyment to its whole. As was already noted here, the 11 songs that make up the body of the compilation were pulled from performances put on by the orchestra between 2015 and 2018. In other words, each performance was in a different setting. The work on-site and in post is to be commended, as each performance expertly captures the live setting. The instrumentalists and the vocalists are balanced meticulously. The transitions from one performance to the next are seamless with the fade-outs. On the surface, this might not seem important, but in the bigger picture of things, it is very important. That is because despite being only available on CD and digital, the collection leaves listeners feeling just as fulfilled as if they were taking in the performances on DVD and/or Blu-ray. This is important to note because concerts are typically more worth taking in when they are presented on full audiovisual presentations than just audio-only presentations. Yet here in this case, the audio-only presentation is just as enjoyable as any full audiovisual experience. To that end, the work of those behind the scenes proves just as applause-worthy as the work of the performers. When the work of all involved is considered together, it makes Big Band Holidays II a wonderful musical backdrop for any holiday gathering.
The forthcoming holiday collection Big Band Holidays II from the Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis is a presentation that will appeal to anyone looking for some variety for their holiday gatherings this and every year. It is a presentation that is a gift for listeners in its own right. That is proven in part, as discussed, by its featured songs. The performances of said songs play their own part to the recording’s whole. The collective mixing and production of the recording is just as important to its whole as the performances and songs. Each item is important in its own way to the whole of the recording. All things considered, they make Big Band Holidays II a must have for anyone looking for a new musical setting for their holiday gatherings. More information on this and other titles from the Jazz & Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis is available online now at:
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