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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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Crotchet

Christian Elsner
Christian Elsner Ė A Swingy Christmas

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Recorded at Poni-Records in August 2003 DDD
CPO 777 016-2 [51:27]

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/Music by J.F. Koots, Lyrics by H. Gillespie
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas/H. Martin and R. Blaine
Jingle Bells/J. Pierpont
The Christmas Song/M. Torme and R. Wells
Frosty, The Snow Man/S. Nelson and J. Rollins
Nature Boy/E. Ahbez
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer/J. Marks
Round Midnight/Music by T. Monk & C. Williams, Lyrics by C. Elsner
Winter Wonderland/Music by F. Bernard, Lyrics by D. Smith
Iíll Be Home For Christmas/K. Gannon and W. Kent
Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Music by J. Styne, Lyrics by S. Cahn
White Christmas/I. Berlin
O Come, All Ye Fathful/Music trad. Portugal, Words trad. Latin, translated by F. Oakley
Silent Night/Music by F.Gruber, Lyrics by J.Mahr
Joy to the World/Music by G. Fr. Handel, Lyrics by I. Watts
A Child Is Born/Music by T. Jones, Lyrics by C. Elsner
Itís Beginning To Look Like Christmas/M.Willson
Iím Standing At Your Manger Low/Music by J.S. Bach, Lyrics by P. Gerhard, English by C. Elsner
La, Le, Lu/H. Gaze, English by C. Elsner

Christmas albums are a joy and a curse every year. These familiar songs often rekindle joyous memories of youth, gifts under the tree, and thoughts of family and friends. As a result it often seems that everyone who has access to a recording studio eventually decides that they absolutely must share their own visions of sugarplums. When this is successful, we are magically transported back through the years and celebrate accordingly. As so many of these wonderful tunes are now swing and jazz standards, this album attempts to put itself in the realm of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, or Louis Armstrong.

Itís a shame that the attempt is such a ham-handed, futile attempt. Christian Elsnerís voice is beautiful, and rich, but could not be more wrong for jazz. He seems to have little understanding of the idiom. The timbre is wrong, the accent is wrong, the phrasing is overly-exact and overly-precise. His English sounds unnatural and overly practised to the point of being utterly artificial. Itís unfortunate that this music is so distinctly different from the operatic tradition that he is so obviously prepared for.

If it were merely the vocals that were such a travesty this album would be innocuous enough, and would merely be a forgettable piece of holiday tripe. However the arrangements are often intruded upon by a violin that sounds totally out of place and becomes a distraction that cannot be ignored. Again, it is obvious that the musician employed is technically competent but horribly misemployed.

The rhythm section is competent and polished. The drumming and piano work is harmless enough, and the bass player occasionally provides some glimmers of understanding. Ron Carter or Jaco Pastorious he is not, but Stefan Engals can hold his own. Sven Hack on flute and tenor sax displays a Dexter Gordon tone and provides the few musically enjoyable moments on this disc during his saxophone solos. Unfortunately, his flute work is too closely akin to the orchestral work he must be normally employed with. He would be well served to listen to the timbre of Dave Valentin before he attempts any more work on a jazz flute. His tone is simply too pure and bereft of emotion.

As the disc progresses, it seems that the arranger feels that he must earn his keep by randomly inserting nonsensical repetitions and key changes. When this is done in the work of Theloneous Monk, Thad Jones or Charles Mingus, we see musical genius. Unfortunately Konrad Georgi is parroting their lead sheets rather than their sound, displaying in no uncertain terms the lack of understanding and exposure that he has of jazz as an art form.

In short, this is an ill-conceived album, poorly executed and lovingly crafted by people that simply do not see what a disaster it is that they have wrought. It reminds me of a student exercise where the young performer makes an attempt to stretch himself, and in that context this might be considered a worthy attempt. However the disc is not worth your hard earned money. As an example of jazz, it is without merit. As an example of Christmas music, it runs the gamut from merely uninspired to truly bad. This is unfortunate, as so many of the performers are also so obviously technically proficient; they simply missed the opportunity to produce something worthwhile. Maybe next year Mr. Elsner will consider doing everyone a favor and producing an album of baroque or romantic period songs. This Christmas album is best used as a white-elephant gift at the office Christmas party, or perhaps as a festive holiday coaster. I cannot fathom a desire to listen to it again.

 

Patrick Gary

 

 

 

 



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