17 November 2008

Big Band Christmas

Big Band Christmas An Instrumental Delight
By Kristin Battestella

Perhaps most folks my age don’t like big band and swing music, but during the holiday season, there’s nothing like great brass instrumentals playing in the background as you bake cookies and wrap presents. Thankfully, the Chris McDonald Orchestra’s 1996 release Big Band Christmas fits the bill.

The set opens with a hip version of Sleigh Ride. It’s not quite the same as the traditional Boston Pops rendition but a little jazzier. This tune can be the easy music behind candlelit dinner conversation or a great dance number at the office party. White Christmas also keeps the night swinging with its hip self. Big Band Christmas’ take isn’t the slow Crosby crooner style of old, but gets you swaying to the tune nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Blue Christmas is the first misstep. It’s too upbeat. Sure, it’s great for dancing, but for casual listening, this version misses the mark. Isn’t Blue Christmas supposed to be a bit of a melancholy tune? You almost don’t recognize the song. I’d rather have a slow moment with a holiday tear or two.

Thankfully, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is the epitome of melancholy. Big Band Christmas wins here on its bluesy mood, slow notes, and lonely feeling. The notes almost sound like the lyrics. Whether your with family and friends or away from loved ones, this is the song to reminisce to.

As suave as the secular tunes are, Big Band Christmas misses its beats with the Little Drummer Boy and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. McDonald’s upbeat take again makes the tunes great for dancing, but unrecognizable as the staple carols we know. Little Drummer Boy sounds more like Sing Sing Sing, believe it or not. Clear is also too fast, losing all its religious reverence.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas, however, gains more holiday reverence here. Like the closing song at the dance hall, it’s suave notes and promising tune bring back all the holiday memories. Along with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, a standout.

Let It Snow is another over the top tune that’s a bit too far from the easy tune we know and love. In an album of brass, it’s also a bit out of place to hear a clarinet led tune. I love my Benny Goodman, but it’s not the feel of this album. Silent Night isn’t your standard take either, but this time it works for Big Band Christmas. All the big notes are in the right places, giving this normally soft and subtle tune some extra Christmas oomph.

Big Band Christmas
A special medley of Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Angels We Have Heard On High is meant to close Big Band Christmas in spectacular fashion, but again, straying too far from the traditional carol style ends the album on an off note. Is that a hint of merengue I hear? Where did that come from? Not necessarily in the spirit of the season, but certainly danceable.
Trackwise Big Band Christmas is a bit of a split decision, but the memorable tunes here outweigh the missteps. Even the out of place tunes are great for dancing, soft office music, or rotation in your computer’s Christmas playlist. Although this disc is currently out of print, an online search turned up numerous used copies and mp3 downloads available. Pick and choose your favorite Big Band Christmas music today for a dinner at home or a swinging holiday party.

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