Grego Applegate Edwards
I don’t envy creative spirits who decide to do a Christmas/Holiday album. The pressure to follow the well traveled routes through the typical carols is hard to resist, but how many things can you do with “Jingle Bells”? There is probably a finite number. One of the zanier WFMU DJs a few years ago decided to play as many versions of “Jingle Bells” back-to-back as he could lay hands on. I didn’t happen to be listening at the time but I do suspect the effect would eventually be something like water boarding. “I am drowning in Holiday Cheer! No I am not!”
So then hurrah for the Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship and their Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (self released). Not only is there no version of “Jingle Bells” whatsoever, the carols chosen include some very old, under-recorded ones like “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” and “Song of Mary.” And the big band and smaller band within pull out some very interesting arrangements. There are world elements, advanced sorts of things, nice touches like the use of counterpoint, and real modern jazz going on, good jazz. And for you guitarists, Dan Baraszu plays a prominent role in the mix. Just sayin’.
Well I’ll confess that Carla Bley’s Christmas album pretty much blew my head off a few years ago–those reharmonizations!–but this Will Scruggs album is up there. It’s a keeper. It’s different. It goes someplace with it all. Cheers!