For years, fans and friends of the Yellowjackets have been asking keyboardist and founding member Russell Ferrante when the band is going to release a Christmas album. Although the seasoned contemporary jazz foursome has contributed tracks to various holiday compilations over the years, they had yet to cut a Christmas record of their own.
Until now. This year, the Yellowjackets finally give the gift that fans have been waiting for. Peace Round (HUCD 3090) is a collection of well-known traditional Christmas songs with the kind of contemporary jazz trimmings that only a team like Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Marcus Baylor can hang.
Peace Round is the Yellowjackets’ third Heads Up release, following up on the success of their live 2001 Grammy nominated recording, Mint Jam, and their follow up Grammy nominated 2003 release, Time Squared a new album is scheduled for March 2005.
"We felt that this was the right moment for a Christmas record," says Ferrante, "as the band has been very busy this year and the chemistry is particularly strong."
Recording a Christmas collection poses some unique challenges. "One must make these familiar Christmas songs personal, but at the same time respect their original intent and the spirit of the season," Ferrante explains. "We felt we could best do this by capturing lyrical and relaxed performances. We also wanted to render the songs as directly as possible with spare use of overdubbing. Therefore, most performances are first or second takes, and all but two are just the quartet live."
Most of the tracks on Peace Round are well known to anyone who cherishes the Christmas season: "Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The First Noel" (featuring a stirring vocal performance by Jean Baylor, who also performed on the Yellowjackets’ 2003 release, Time Squared), "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Winter Wonderland."
"Almost all the songs we performed are familiar, although a few twists and turns have been woven into the arrangements," say Ferrante. The title song, however, is an old English canon built on a simple eight-measure round – perhaps the perfect metaphor, simple yet profound, for the season of peace and hope.
"A round begins with the statement of a theme by a single voice," the band explains in the album’s liner notes. "As the theme is passed from one voice to the next, what began as a solitary voice grows into a rich chorus. It is through song that many of our most cherished traditions are passed along. Might it be possible then for a yearning for peace to start with a single melody? It’s heartening to be reminded that there is incredible power in one voice. Let it begin with a song or an idea that is picked up by a neighbor and passed on to a friend…We humbly offer Peace Round as our wish for this and every season."