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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Carla's Christmas Carols

Watt/35 271 2413



1. O Tannenbaum
2. Away in a Manger
3. The Christmas Song
4. Ring Christmas Bells
5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, part one
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, part two
7. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
8. Hell's Bells
9. Jesus Maria
10. Jingle Bells
11. O Holy Night
12. Joy to the World

Carla Bley - Piano, celeste
Steve Swallow - Bass, chimes
Partyka Brass Quintet:
Tobias Weidinger - Trumpet, flugelhorn, glockenspiel
Axel Schlosser - Trumpet, flugelhorn, chimes
Christine Chapman - Horn
Adrian Mears - Trombone
Ed Partyka - Bass trombone, tuba


This CD reached me too late to review before Christmas but Carla Bley's music is suitable for any time of the year. This is hardly a typical Carla Bley album (if any of her recordings can be called "typical") as it consists simply of her at the piano, with her partner Steve Swallow on bass, together with a brass quintet playing Christmas music.

So this is not particularly a "jazz" album, since improvisation takes second place to the arranged passages, although there are many attractive jazz solos. You may find it hard to recognise some Christmas favourites, as tunes like Away in a Manger are wrapped in Carla's characteristically enigmatic orchestrations, leaving only hints or occasional reminders of the original carol.

In the first of two versions of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, some of the brass set up bell-like chimes for a seasonal background. There is a neat jazzy trumpet solo, which unexpectedly moves into a five-four rhythm. The second version of this tune is very different: opening with Carla's pensive piano leading into a lyrical solo from the French horn which eventually states the melody. This feels very Christmassy, with a mixture of joy and nostalgia. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear has another fine trumpet solo - appropriately clear and fresh. The mood on this track is very similar to some of Wynton Marsalis's pieces, aware of venerable traditions.

Carla Bley contributes two of her own compositions to the CD. Hell's Bells includes chimes, and good solos from trombone and trumpet, plus a minimalistic piano solo. Jesus Maria is much more serious - almost like a solemn religious procession. Swallow's solo makes his bass sound more like a guitar than a bass. Jingle Bells is given an ironic interpretation: the sort of witty thing that Carla does so well.

O Holy Night returns us to seriousness, as Swallow's high-pitched bass states the theme with classical prudence and Carla's piano maintains a chorale-like atmosphere. This and the last track were recorded at a concert in December 2008 in Berlin. The CD signs off with a brief Joy to the World, leaving us full of Christmas goodwill, even in the New Year.

Tony Augarde

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