With the holiday season here once again, the stores are full of records loaded with cookie cutter holiday tuned. From one genre to the next and even on the stores’ speakers, it is everywhere. That can honestly become rather infuriating. Thankfully for all of the same old same old that said music offers audiences, there are at least some diamonds in the rough so to speak that change things up this time of year. One of those records is Putumayo World Music’s recently released compilation record, Jazz Christmas. Released Nov. 26, just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season, the 10-song record is a welcome change of pace for those looking for something a little different from everything else. That is due to the featured arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. The compilation’s liner notes are just as much importance as its musical content and will be discussed a little later. The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements and will also be addressed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection. All things considered, they make the compilation a welcome addition to this year’s field of holiday music collections.
Putumayo World Music’s newly released holiday music collection, Jazz Christmas, is a surprisingly enjoyable new offering for those who are looking for something a little different in their annual holiday music presentations. The record proves so enjoyable in large part because of its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are jazz takes on so many well-known holiday tunes. Each one is so unique in itself and from its counterparts featured in this record. It would have been so easy for any of the featured acts to either just try to make the songs in the vein of Vince Guaraldi or in another direction, to be just full on cheesy like a bunch of lounge acts. Thankfully that did not happen. Instead, each act gave each song its own touch. Case in point is Lars Edegran and his Santa Claus Revelers’ original tune, ‘Christmas Time in New Orleans.’ The song title is a take of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Christmas In New Orleans.’ What’s interesting here is that where Armstrong’s famous rendition is a big band style composition, Lars Edegran and His Santa Claus Revelers turn the song slightly on its ear by giving the song more of a Dixieland sound. Even in that unique take, the group still gives the song something of that big band sense. Vocalist Big Al Carson even does a respectable job emulating the smoky, gritty sound of Pops’ vocal delivery style.
Another example of the importance of the record’s musical arrangements comes in the form of Chad Lawson Trio’s take of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High.’ Everyone Knows the sort of pomp and circumstance that is associated with this song, what with the pipe organ, choir, etc. In the case of this rendition, Lawson and company give the song a lighter touch that is about as close as any of the featured groups come to Guaraldi’s work. The song stays true to the roots of the original composition, but opts instead here to use a light piano touch, subtle bass line and equally subtle approach on the drums. It really sounds like something that one would expect to hear on A Charlie Brown Christmas. The swinging touch that the trio puts on the song and that there is no real sense of ego here makes it such a fun composition.
Yet another example of the importance of the record’s featured musical arrangements comes in Tom Grant’s take of ‘Winter Wonderland,’ which opens the compilation. Considering how many times this song has been covered since it was first composed by Dick Smith in 1934, this rendition is honestly one of the better takes to come along in a long time. There is no sense of pretense here. It is just a piano, bass, and drums lightly playing the jazz classic while also giving it a touch that is just as soft as the snow about which Smith wrote. Many of the bands out there that take on the classic tend to take such a down tempo approach to the song. It is a nice change of pace here to have a group that ever so slightly picks up the pace and still gives the song a nice, light swing. It is just one more example of the role that the arrangements play to the record’s presentation. When it is considered along with the other arrangements examined here and with the rest of the collection’s featured arrangements, the whole leaves no doubt that the record’s musical content forms a solid foundation for its overall presentation. It is just one part of what makes the record stand out, too. The collection’s liner notes are of their own importance, too.
The liner notes featured with Jazz Christmas are important to note because of the background that they provide on the record’s featured artists and on the history of the featured songs. Referencing again ‘White Christmas,’ the liner notes point out that Smith composed the song while recovering from tuberculosis in an asylum. That’s not exactly what one might think of when one thinks of someone writing about the romantic nature of snow falling quietly and gently on the ground. On a related note, the liner notes point out that Grant, who performed the piano line on this song, had a lifelong affinity for music, having grown up in a record store. On a related note, audiences will be interested to learn that Grant had the honor of playing with famed jazz performers, such as Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, and Jim Pepper. That is not a bad resume to say the least.
Just as interesting to point out in reference to the record’s liner notes is the revelation that Oscar Peterson, whose rendition of ‘Let It Snow’ is featured in the record, enjoyed a career that spanned more than six decades. Ironically, it was just before Christmas in 2007 when Peterson passed. So to have one of the tunes that he helped make so beloved here and knowing that he died just before Christmas makes for an interesting irony. Staying on that note, the people at Putumayo World Music also make sure to note that the story of the song’s original creation is itself ironic. As the liner notes point out, the song was written during the dead of summer in 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. It additionally points out that despite not mentioning Christmas even once in its lyrics, the song is still so strongly associated with Christmas just because of the matter of snow. Considering that snow happens around the country today as early as October, one can not help but start really thinking about this added irony. Again, here is more proof of the importance of the record’s liner notes. When everything pointed out here and in the liner notes for the other songs examined here and with the rest of the record’s songs, the whole of the liner notes’ content makes clear that the liner notes with the collection are just as crucial to the record’s presentation as the songs. To that end, the whole of that primary and secondary content makes for so much reason for any holiday music purist to appreciate the collection. Even with that in mind, there is still more to examine to the record’s positive. That one more item is the record’s bonus content.
The bonus content in question noted is the bonus download card. As is the case with Putumayo World Music’s recently released compilation, Acoustic Paris, the download card is so important because of the listening options that it allows audiences. In an age when streaming and digital itself is so big a deal for so many consumers, the ability to download the collection will allow audiences to stream the music anywhere or even download it and burn it to disc. Audiences can give the card to a friend or family member and let that person download the album, thus further spreading the music among audiences to more audiences. It is a way to reach as many audiences as possible and appeal to all of those audiences, rather than risk alienating any one group of listeners or another. It reaches out to almost all audiences in one package. For that, all involved at Putumayo World Music are to be commended for including the download card with the collection. When the big positive of that tiny card is considered along with the impact and importance of all of the record’s content, the whole puts the final touch to the presentation and makes the whole that much more enjoyable for fans of the holiday standards.
Putumayo World Music’s newly released holiday music collection, Jazz Christmas, is a presentation that is sure to appeal to a wide range of audiences. The record’s appeal comes in large part through its featured arrangements. The arrangements are important to note because they give the 10 holiday standards unique takes without ever having any sense of pretense, unlike so many holiday standard covers. The liner notes that accompany the record’s songs add their own appeal. That is because of the background that it all provides on the songs and the acts that performed the songs here. The bonus download card that comes with the collection rounds out the record’s most important elements. That is because of the fact that it shows once again, Putumayo World Music’s officials reaching out to as many audiences as possible. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection. All things considered, they make the collection a surprisingly welcome addition to this year’s field of holiday music releases.
Jazz Christmas is available now. More information on this and other titles from Putumayo World Music is available online at:
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