Online since August 2002

A jazz take on the holidays

From the Winter 2003 issue.

Merry Magic
Merry Magic
By Eric Reed

MaxJazz Records: 2003

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The holiday music set is becoming almost cliched, especially in the jazz and country music realms where seemingly every artist of any renown has issued a Christmas collection.

The main problem with jazz Christmas albums is that while jazz is about improvisation, Christmas is more geared toward the tried and true. Which is why most jazz Christmas albums stay safely in the realm of easy-listening pop.

Pianist Eric Reed, who first came to national attention as a member of Wynton Marsalis' band, is the latest jazzster to come out with holiday fare, and if he deserves credit for sticking closer to jazz than the Muzak we usually get on Christmas albums, that artistic unpredictability and spark can make for a confusing holiday listen.

The songs are mostly the traditional stuff: "The Christmas Song," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland," "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen," et al, augmented by one new song from Reed, "Angels in the Snow."

The instrumentation is also fairly standard: Reed on piano and organ, Rodney Green on drums, Barak Mori on bass, and Steve Nelson on vibes. Erin Bode and Paula West provide vocals on some of the songs.

The arrangements are straight-ahead, as mentioned generally veering more toward a jazz sensibility than a typical holiday presentation. While that makes for a more interesting listen, it doesn't always maintain a Christmas spirit to it.

If you're tired of the usual lightweight Christmas music, this might be your album. If you're simply looking for some background music for opening presents to, you might want to keep looking.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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