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BWW CD Review: CHRISTMAS AT BIRDLAND Brings Three Merry Elves Into Your Home For The Holidays

A tradition at Birdland is now a tradition for your home.

BWW CD Review: CHRISTMAS AT BIRDLAND Brings Three Merry Elves Into Your Home For The HolidaysChristmas CDs are a very personal thing - each person who spends money on Christmas music will tend to gravitate toward a certain type of holiday music. There are those who prefer the more traditional music provided by Nat "King" Cole, Julie Andrews, and The Carpenters, while others will err on the side of modern-day diva Christmas albums like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Idina Menzel. There are country Christmas records, r&b CDs, and crooners, all for the people with those particular interests. Jazz artists singing Yuletide arrangements is not a new thing: observe jazz-infused discs by Nancy Wilson, Ann Hampton Callaway, and John Pizzarelli and you'll be in jazz heaven during the holidays. So last year, when producer Wayne Haun made a cd called Christmas At Birdland that was (finally!) a representation of the long-running holiday show A Swinging Birdland Christmas, it was assumed that this would be a jazzy, swingy, groovy representation of the jazz artistry that comes out of Birdland 365 days a year... and that can sometimes be a problem with a jazz holiday album. Sometimes jazz treatments of holiday music can take the focus off of the emotion inherent in Christmas music, placing it, instead, on the jazz expertise of the musicians, rendering the recordings devoid of human feelings.

That is not the case with CHRISTMAS AT BIRDLAND.

Though the skills of the artists are definitely on display, from musical director/arranger Billy Stritch to the exceptional musicians working beside him to his Swinging Birdland Christmas co-stars Klea Blackhurst and Jim Caruso, the album overflows with heartfelt pathos. Whether it is the jovial expression in an opening tune that features a guest appearance from Donny Osmond, the tenderness in Ms. Blackhurst's (Dave Koz accompanied) "Silent Night/A Child is Born" medley, or the playful feelings of friendship featured in the BFF duo "Little Jack Frost, Get Lost" performed by Caruso and Stritch, there is nothing cold or impersonal on this album. Indeed, it is just like being in the audience at the show - with all the joy, celebration, and humanity on the recording, this is an authentic digital representation of what actually occurs on the stage at Birdland each year... only without the Christmas tree light necklaces; and it has to be said that the harmonies are tight. It is a true pleasure to listen to singers who don't feel the need to shout over one another, who listen to each other, and who are constantly on the pitch (which, by the way, all three are - Merry Christmas!)

Particular standouts on the album, for this writer, include a festive and fun trio of "It Happened in Sun Valley/Snow" (I mean, who doesn't love a reference to the movie White Christmas? Come on now!) and the piece de resistance, the famed "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" which Team Birdland Christmas performs every year in their show. Although the cd (the most frequently played in my home, Christmas of 2019) is one magnificent musical moment after another, these two joy-making numbers are proof-positive why the show has been so popular all these years, and they also feel like the numbers that, best, tell the tale of who Blackhurst, Caruso, and Stritch are, and what they are about.

Mr. Stritch, as usual, outdoes himself with the arrangements, and why not? After all, he has been working alongside these wonderfully cheeky and proficient artists for so long, he has it firmly in his head where he can take them, what he can count on from them, and when he can lean on them to carry their weight, and not just Caruso and Blackhurst, but also Daniel Glass on drums and Steve Doyle on Bass. Nobody on the team is left out in the cold - they are all of equal importance, and that shows in how much they all trust and rely on one another. As musical partnerships go, this is one to write home about.

And when you do write home, tell the folks to get this album: it is destined to become a family holiday favorite.

Christmas at Birdland is a 2019 release on the PROVIDENT label and is available on all streaming platforms.




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From This Author Stephen Mosher