CD review

Gabriel Latchin Trio – ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’

Gabriel Latchin Trio – ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’
(Alys Jazz AJ 1503. Review by Adrian Pallant)

The words ‘jazzed-up Christmas’ may well strike a note of suspicion with those of us who have encountered dodgy attempts to add a rhythm and a few ‘blue’ notes to The Oxford Book of Carols. But, safe to say, pianist Gabriel Latchin’s trio, with double bassist Dario Di Lecce and drummer Josh Morrison, skates to the opposite end of the scale with these glittering reinterpretations of festive songs, plus a couple of carols and an original of his own.

Two studio recordings, Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio and The Moon and I, confirmed the pianist’s creativity (though it’s debatable whether over nine million Spotify views of his Polka Dots and Moonbeams will buy him more than a bauble for the tree) – and that brilliance only continues in new album I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Importantly, this is, first and foremost, a jazz album brimming with cool, improvisational flair (and certainly no trace of crass, repetitive-tune novelty). At its core is a deep understanding of the ‘piano greats’, as explained by Latchin: “I just tried to imagine how Bill Evans might play I’ll Be Home For Christmas, or how Ahmad Jamahl might play Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” So, going beyond recognisable title, melody and harmony, these selections swiftly head into the realm of the swinging or balladic mid-twentieth-century standard, with all the invention that offers.

Your Christmas quiz ‘starter for ten’ could be to identify Latchin’s inspiration for each of the eleven tracks – perhaps Oscar Peterson in a swift-sledding rendition of Jingle Bells; Dave Brubeck in a nostalgic reading of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas; or the irresistible, chromatic blitheness of an Ellingtonian Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. But relax and raise a glass. These fifty minutes are chiefly to be savoured for their cordial, seasonal spirit.

Winter Wonderland‘s cool, confident strut (presumably employing three pairs of ice cleats) opens this recording with finesse, Latchin’s mix of Monkish chordal colour and crystalline melody/improv sparkling throughout; and I’ll Be Home For Christmas is typically lush, Di Lecce and Morrison integral to its romance. Wells/Tormé ‘chestnut’, The Christmas Song, surprises with a fast bossa pace, enthusiastically carried by Morrison’s cymbals and toms, while fleet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – indeed, hinting at Ahmad Jamahl – grooves to Di Lecce’s catchy chromatic figure and breathless walking bass (Morrison’s brushes taking an extended solo scramble across frosty rooftops).

In jazz terms, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is fondly remembered for the delicate, baroque-styled rendering of John Lewis and MJQ – but this trio has different ideas, swinging with joyous abandon; and Latchin’s congenial A Toast to Friends has the Peterson touch of delightful inflection and ornamentation. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (a sentiment we’ll cling to this year) is elegantly measured, glinting with Latchin’s high grace notes, flourishes and solo coda. Finally, in a carol whose simplicity is potentially difficult to cover, the trio pull it out of the stocking with their not-so-still, bluesy interpretation of Silent Night.

Not everyone will share Gabriel Latchin’s view that “you kinda grow up, and Christmas becomes less important”. But his love of the season, coupled with a continuing study and appreciation of jazz piano trio heritage, has created a magical and smartly-considered take on yuletide tunes with which many feel a lifelong connection. At the same time, the trio’s warm, improvised integrity might keep you listening through the winter chill, long after Twelfth Night!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas is released on 4 December 2020

LINK: FEATURE/INTERVIEW WITH GABRIEL LATCHIN
LINK: album purchasing, plus ticket sales for performances in Bath (11 December) and London (15 December)

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