I normally take a LOT of persuasion to get me into the Christmas spirit, but this CD has already done it. The surprising ingredients, i.e. carols, Bley, Swallow, and a brass quintet, are as described on the tin.
Let me explain. The compositions are constantly playful re-workings of Christmas carols by the composer-pianist Carla Bley, plus a couple of originals.
As part of the Carla Bley package comes that ineffably gentle giant of the electric bass Steve Swallow (sample his perfectly placed nonchalant fast-walking/running crotchets on Hell’s Bells.) Ed Partyka is a bass trombone and tuba player from Berlin who knows and books quite exceptional brass players, all of whom have cast-iron brass chops -wonderful sound, outrageously clean ensemble and intonation – plus very flexible jazz chops.
The project started in Essen in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet, of all places. The Philharmonie there was being run by an adventurous director called Michael Kaufmann, whose new gig is the annual Kurt Weill celebrations in Dessau. After a first appearance in Essen in 2006, the project was revived for a tour in 2008, and the personnel all ended up in a relaxed studio setting to record it in a village the Vaucluse. A couple of tracks at the end were recorded live in Berlin.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen has the gentlemen relaxing in 5/4. Jingle bells with brass reggae backings done with superhuman accuracy. O holy night with Swallow declaiming the melody high up on the bass. Nice.
Carla’s Christmas Carols is on WATT distributed by ECM, with number 2712413.