|A Jazzy Noel | Posted November 21, 2013
With Christmas comes tradition, especially when it comes to music and carols. The best Christmas tunes will conjure feelings unique to the season, while stirring memories and supporting traditions and honored family customs.
For me, it often begins to feel like Christmas in late November when there is a chill in the air and a scent of coming snow. Or when I take a brisk winter walk and smell wood fires burning in neighborhood chimneys. Alternately, I can turn on Nat King Cole's classic Christmas record and feel like I'm sitting by a cozy fireside on a cold winter's day even in the middle of summer.
It's this kind of ambient Christmas magic that pianist and composer David Ian hopes to create on his latest effort, a holiday EP titled Vintage Christmas Wonderland. Generally mild and tranquil, the five track jazz offering is a combination of instrumentals with and without vocal accompaniment.
Depending on your perspective and musical tastes, instrumental tracks "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "The First Noel" may be peaceful and calming, or just plain sleepy. I enjoy the swing-inspired sounds of Michael Bublé and the sometimes jazzy leanings of Sinatra, Crosby, or Como. However, I find Ian's pieces more closely resemble the musical backdrop provided by a department store pianist than my Christmas favorites emanating from a fireside speaker. In particular, the latter track is a challenge to my non-jazz ears. The melody is lengthened and stretched, and at times played so quietly, that without the aid of the CD track listing, I would be hard pressed to identity the song.
Ian adds interest to the balance of the EP by enlisting the voices of Andre Miguel Mayo as well as Tal and Acacia. Mayo is featured on "Winter Wonderland." While perhaps aiming for the easygoing flare and style of Johnny Mathis, the track, though pleasant, falls a bit short. Acacia sings solo on "Angels We Have Heard on High," which departs from tradition with an altered melody that detracts somewhat from her smooth vocal. The EP's strongest track comes with the final song "Jingle Bells" on which Tal and Acacia accompany Mayo in a fashion that gives a nod to the Andrews Sisters. To my surprise, the creative liberties taken with the chorus don't bother me a lick. Rather, because the repetition in the original can be tiresome, I found this playful rendering refreshing.
While listeners with jazz-leaning ears may welcome Vintage Christmas Wonderland with open arms, others will find these recordings lack that certain spark that elevates Christmas songs from agreeable ambient music to memorable and beloved classics.
I applaud David Ian's obvious respect for Christmas traditions. His vision is clearly fueled by a heart looking to pay homage to time-honored favorites of the past. Nevertheless, rather than ushering in the Christmas spirit, the EP seems more suitable for putting a mellow coda on the big day.
Song to Download Now:
"Jingle Bells" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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