During this time of year there is always a glut of holiday albums released. Some are just fluff, but there are those that strike a responsive, meaningful chord. Here are some that hit home for the holidays.
Blake Aaron: A Romantic Christmas (Innervision) This is a powerhouse sleeper of a Yule CD from West Coast guitarist Blake Aaron. From the first note of "The Christmas Song," with its lush synth string and bassline, this beautifully crafted CD has Aaron"s guitar and Jesse Gonzales" soprano sax soaring and softly wailing. There is so much beauty here - haunting textures and moving improvising. Kick back in front of the fireplace for a warm and fuzzy mood. This is one of the finest Christmas jazz CDs I have heard. It totally captures the feeling. Warren Hill: A Warren Hill Christmas (Narada Jazz) Canadian smooth jazz saxophonist Hill shows he has the chops to dig in on this holiday outing. On the opening cut, "Frosty the Snowman," and "Santa Baby," Hill shows his straight-ahead and bop facility with a biting, crisp tone. "O Holy Night" has Hill back in his smooth jazz mode but he really gives "Joy to the World" a soulful, funky romp. There are a lot of seasonal surprises to enjoy here. It"s nice to hear Hill stretch out for the holidays and present a new bag for the Yule. Jazz in retrospect For two days it was a gas to sit and listen to the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in concert, paying homage to Duke Ellington"s masterful jazz interpretation of Tchaikovsky"s Nutcracker Suite, along with holiday music played in modern orchestral form. Each concert opened with a roaring Ellington rendition of "Jingle Bells" that proved BWJO can shout and swing with the best of them. Friday"s matinee was a unique situation when Everett Greene, who was to sing a set with the band, was late and Wallarab had to stretch and improvise the concert. It turned out to be a winner for the audience as pianist Luke Gillespie started tinkling the gospel on "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." The great Dominic Spera stood up and wailed on trumpet with the rhythm of Jack Gilfoy on drums and Jack Helsy on bass grabbing hold. Before you knew it, the whole band picked up and started section riffing behind any soloist who wanted to stand up and blow. They even grafted "Silent Night" onto the chord progression. It was a big band spontaneous arrangement right before our ears and it was a blast. Everett Greene was masterful standing in front of this awesome band. The synergy between the two is a joy to hear. Especially noteworthy were Wallarab"s arrangements of "The Christmas Song," with its lush trombone-accented choir, and "Let it Snow," with Greene"s mellow cruising on top of that tidal wave of textured sound. The Nutcracker was simply a swinging delight, demonstrating Ellington"s wit, humor and respect for this classic. Highlights were many, but as Ellington said, "It Don"t Mean a Thing if It Ain"t Got That Swing." This is not to overlook the brilliant solos from all members of the band, but a special kudo to drummer Jack Gilfoy, who must have made Sam Woodyard, Ellington"s drummer on the original recording, smile. And Jack Helsey"s booming bass and technique should have delighted Duke. They really kept toes tapping and heads nodding for two outstanding days of exceptional performances of this rare and distinguished work. Indy is rich now with two major repertory orchestras - in classical and jazz. Chuck Workman is the producer/ host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.