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

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Champs Hill Records



1. Gabriel's Message
2. Personent hodie
3. Bethlehem Down
4. Quem pastores
5. Der Tag...
6. Rocking
7. Erbarme dich...
8. Zither Carol
9. Stille Nacht
10. King Jesus Hath a Garden
11. O Come, O Come
12. Il est né, le divin Enfant

David Rees-Williams - Piano
Neil Francis - Electric bass
Phil Laslett - Drums


It may seem a bit late to review a Christmas album but this CD deserves to be heard all the year round. David Rees-Williams' trio specialises in giving a jazz slant to pieces of classical music - in this case, Christmas carols.

David makes his interpretations flow as smoothly as a mountain stream, thanks to his legato approach to most tunes. Much of the time, the music sounds closer to the classics than to jazz, and the bass and drums don't get much of a look-in. In fact the drums are barely audible on several tracks, although the bass supplies a solid foundation for the piano's creations. Personent Hodie is different in that the bass shares the melody with the piano, while the drums provide a vigorous marching-band backing. The drums also add considerably to the impetus of Zither Carol.

In the sleeve-notes, David says that he tried to avoid the obvious Christmas songs and many people won't know such pieces as Gabriel's Message or Quem Pastores but they will be glad to be introduced to the unfamiliar melodies. Some carols have a built-in beat which helps the transition to jazz. This applies to Rocking, which is gentle but has hints of jazz.

Stille Nacht is one of the most memorable tracks, with the melody entering in the midst of mysterious but captivating surroundings. David's musical career started when he was a chorister at Oxford's New College, and King Jesus Hath a Garden includes a treble solo by David recorded in the 1970s for a seasonal album. The album ends with a jaunty interpretation of Il est né, le divin Enfant, with a bright Latin-American ambience.

David Rees-Williams is listed on the sleeve as just playing the piano but he also plays the Hammond organ, a synthesizer and a vibraphone. He frequerntly overdubs these instruments to give a more varied texture to the sound. In Zither Carol, he overdubs all three instruments. And in Bach's Der Tag... the organ plays the tune while the piano states a counter-melody. Another Bach piece - Erbarm' dich... - conceals hints of White Christmas, although the joke could have been made a bit more evident.

I have already praised a couple of this trio's previous albums (review1 and review2) and I am happy to recommend this one as well. The trio conveys a pleasing joie de vivre by mingling different musical styles and getting the best out of all of them. Like a puppy, thias album is for life, not just for Christmas.

Tony Augarde

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