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If you're looking for a serious Christmas album, Chris Botti's December is it. Chris doesn't play any Dave Douglas avant garde stuff, but his playing is quietly intense and very introspective here. Just listening to him negotiate the transition from the bridge to the closing A on the opening number lets you know you're in for a more subtly melancholy and heartfelt commentary on the season than you might expect. While the old chestnut, "Chestnuts" (aka "The Christmas Song") has been heard "many times, many ways" Botti's Miles-like interpretation a welcome addition. Like "All The Things You Are" or "My Funny Valentine," this is one of the most widely (and broadly) interpreted standards in American music. Since you can't improve on Nat Cole, everyone who wants to play this has to give a little something of themselves. Botti gives plenty of soul to his interpretation, and drummer Peter Erskine brings welcome and stylish life to the "jazz ballad" tempo. Certainly Botti will be accused of being "dark" for Christmas. Let's say he's being deep, and give him a break.
Although Chris has appeared on lots of folk's records of late, he's best (and best known) as a soloist. Drawing on the obvious Miles influences and lots of Chet Baker cool, Chris Botti is that remarkable thing; a deep and meaningful instrumentalist who's easy to listen to. His sound is like a glass of Merlot, easy to sip with lots of character behind the first taste. On "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow!" the mood is lighter, but no less musical. Jeff Vanston's piano groove makes the latter more interesting than you'd expect. Remember Botti largely ornaments and embelishes the melody, without taking off on flights of fancy. The bridge is cool here, too. The musical release is palpable. This isn't something to stick in a holiday party mix and bop around to, it's for after the guests have gone and the kids have been tucked in.
Botti's harmon muted trumpet gets a little more adventurous towards the end of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." This is an absolutely beautiful sound, and Botti plays deftly, with an easy charm on the track. The mute gives the impression of restrained power, and the restraint in Botti's playing is one of his most appealing characteristics. For a closing number, Botti has chosen the heart wrenching "I'll Be Home For Christmas." In an unusual alteration, he's given it a funk treatment. Rather than lighten the mood, this gives the tune, so timely in light of the condition of the world, an ominous intensity and relentless drive.
Chris Botti suggests in his liner notes that he wanted to offer a range of emotions for the season, rather than focus on the light and happy mood most artists set with a Christmas record. December has a tenor of "In The Bleak Midwinter" about it that shouldn't scare you away. It's not so much somber, as it is serious and thoughtful. Each tune is treated with care and a conscious effort to avoid clich. Chris Botti may be a "smooth jazz" artist, but he's an artist for all that. December is one of his most introspective and meaningful CDs so far. Let's hope he offers some other months to groove on in the future. They say "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most."
By Dave Morgan
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|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H):||5.60 x 0.40 x 4.90 Inches|
|1.||The Christmas Song|
|4.||The First Noel|
|5.||Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!|
|7.||I Really Don't Want Much For Christmas - Featuring Eric Benet|
|8.||Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas|
|9.||Santa Clause Is Coming To Town|
|11.||Little Drummer Boy|
|12.||O Little Town Of Bethlehem|
|13.||I'll Be Home For Christmas|
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