Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Christmas Music Preview - Preview!

As I plunked the last sentence out in this article I finished for my school newspaper, it occurred to me - why not post it on my blog BEFORE it gets published?

A Christmas Music Preview - Preview, if you will.

by Elizabeth Bayne '10
Red & White Staff Writer
What’s the best part about leaves falling off the trees and darkness at four in the afternoon?  The perfect excuse arises to bust out the holiday tunes.  Yes, I’m one of those people.  We sing about silent nights, sleigh rides, and Good King Wenceslas whenever we please.   So I’ll do my best to impart to you, faithful readers, a seasoned holiday listener’s favorites.

My favorite holiday album of all time has to be “Jingle Bell Jazz,” a compilation of some truly all-star jazz musicians with their take on the classics.  Big names such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock appear on the roster, covering tunes like “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Deck the Halls”.  Although these seem like standard holiday songs, what makes this album fun is the level of musicianship that is brought to these somewhat rudimentary tunes.  If you’re looking for some impressive music (for some impressive company, perhaps?) try blasting “Our Little Town” from your stereo.

One that never fails to provide entertainment is “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie” – an impressive and structured choral arrangement fades in to begin the song, but about a minute in (and after I’m thoroughly sick of it), the drums start rolling and a scat singer comes on the scene, spinning the song in a  complete 180.  That continuity, that flow, becomes apparent that had been so lacking before.  A stark contrast arises when the music frames itself by the end of the song, abruptly cutting in with an excerpt of the aforementioned choral singers. 

It’s all about experimentation for these guys – seeing how far out they can take the music with improvisation before reining it back in with a familiar chord progression or riff.  It’s putting a twist on the known.

And if you like twists, you’ll love Jethro Tull’s satirical “The Christmas Album”.  So what’s a progressive rock band doing recording a Christmas album?  My answer?  Good things.  Ever hear a mandolin, a harpsichord, and an accordion used in the same song?  How about a Christmas song?  I thought not.  (Check out the tune “Holly Herald,” the second one on the album).

What really separates this album from other Christmas compilations is that the music is Jethro Tull, only holiday flavored.  There’s still that classic Tull Celtic feel to their stuff, like someone could break out into a jig and that would be entirely appropriate for the occasion.  That’s the beauty of Jethro Tull – their music spans lots of different vibes, consequently making for lots of variety.
And then there’s the flute - that magical flute that Ian Anderson is so well known for.  The sound is crisp, agile and clean when necessary, but it’s passion drives that jazzy, iconic tone that he most often uses.  Talk about keeping it Tull.

The element of satire is employed quite thoroughly throughout the album as well, spanning song titles, witty one-liners, and encompassing the attitude of realism that the music takes in regard to the holiday season.  This album isn’t about the picturesque.

Straight No Chaser, the all-male a cappella group (and YouTube sensation!) from Indiana University, released a Christmas album for the season just last year, titled “Holiday Spirits”.  Unlike Jethro Tull, this album is all about the classics, this time in flawless four-part harmonies.  Granted, there’s nothing inherently edgy about this music, but nevertheless it merits a recommendation.  Perhaps it is my membership in the Snapdragons that inclines me to look at the more technical aspect of a cappella, but even the live track (probably the most well-known out of any of their songs – it’s called “The 12 Nights of Christmas”) that’s included in the album is nothing to shake a stick at.  There’s musicianship lurking among these renditions of the overdone holiday favorites.

So.  What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving?  The tunes.  Enjoy, kids.

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