CREATIVE CHRISTMAS…Etienne Charles: Creole Christmas, Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra: Joyful Jazz, Ann Hampton Callaway: The Hope of Christmas

Here are three fresh ways to celebrate the birth of our Savior!

Trumpeter Etienne Charles delivers a Crescent City delight as he mixes Noel with New Orleans on this session. A peppy brass section delivers a calypso “Father Christmas” with Relator at vocals and cuatro, and some steel drums provided by Victor Provost or Andy Narell create a Caribbean ideal of Bethlehem on “Indian Parang Chick” and “Make a Friend For Christmas.” Some rich and lithe clarinet work by ismail Lulmnovski slithers on “Juliana” and “Roses of Caracas Waltz” and jazzy guitar by Randy Napoleon does a lovely duet with Charles for an intimate “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” The angels are playing calypso on this one!

The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra does some exciting work here on songs that mix the festivity of Christmas with The Reason for the Season. “Jingle Bells” gets an exciting romp with Sean Jones’ trumpet, and he also closes the disc with the glory of a heavenly host on “Joy to the World.” The sax section and Thomas Wendt’s  brushes set a framework for Freddie Cole’s rich as St. Nick voice on “Jingles, The Christmas Cat” with Cole coming back for a seconds on a lovely “A Cradle In Bethlehem” and a subtle “White Christmas (In The Sahara)” with Jay Ashby’s gentle trombone. A take of “Snowfall” trickles with James Moore’s flugelhorn, and a modal “Merry Christmas, Mr. Coltrane” has Jones teamed with Eric DeFade’s tenor on a sleigh ride of a tune. A wonderful time of the year!

The most original of Christmas albums comes with Ann Hampton singing Natal material composed by lyricist Wiliam Schermerhorn. Calloway is in luscious form here; her rich and autumnal voice teams up with all stars which include The New York Voices, Gerald Albright/as, Claudio Roditi/tp, Chuck Loeb/g, Steve Wilson/ss and Hubie Laws/fl. What is refreshing about this album is that the lyrics reflect the traditional Christmas meaning as well as the festivities for the more secular minded. Callaway and the NYV delivers a rich and glowing “The Hope of Chrismas” and Laws’ flute teams with Marty Ashby’s classical guitar for “I Saw A Sparrow.” Steve Wilson’s soprano shines for the Three Kings on “One Star” while a hip and bopping “Christmas Isn’t Christmas At All” features a fun piano by Ted Rosenthal. Most of the tunes have a bit of a Broadway feel, with “I Want to Play Santa” and “What Good Is Being Cranky (When It’s Christmas Time)?” seeming destined for a Road movie. Lots of fun under the mistletoe here.

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