Monday, December 17, 2012

Stan Kenton - A Merry Christmas! (2003)

The original release of the material found on this album
This may have been released in 2003, but it is actually a composite album of a 1970 album Kenton's Christmas and a Roulette 45 of Maynard Ferguson's Birdland Dream Band playing "Christmas for Moderns." Changing the packaging for essentially one bonus track is a bit strange, but it is a welcome addition as the only other digital version that has been released is in the Mosaic The Complete Roulette Recording of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, which with prices now exceeding $1,500, it is a bit pricey. The conception of the Kenton part of the album is unusual for a big band, but not so much for Kenton. The instrumentation does not include saxophones, but rather adds mellophones for a brass band with rhythm section. Kenton wanted to only cover traditional Christmas songs, so there is no Kenton version of "Frosty the Snowman" or anything like that. Most all of the songs are well-conceived and have a chorale-like sound my favorites being "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Once in Royal David's City." There are sparse jazz elements interspersed with the chorale sound on tracks like "God Rest Ye Gentleman," but this is an album that shouldn't be evaluated on the terms of the standard big band, as it is more of a Third Stream effort. The bonus track, "Christmas for Moderns" is in stark contrast to the rest of the album. While, it has some of the same chorale style writing, the Willie Maiden chart has popular Christmas songs of the day mixed with traditional numbers, as well as having much more of a driving swing feeling. This is a great album for its classical sensibilities and its showcasing of the warm brass sonorities that remind many of us of past holiday seasons.

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