Contemporary Jazz

Jazzing Up Christmas

04 DEC 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

When it comes to discerning jazz fans trying to make their spirits bright, sometimes it takes a little time traveling to get the mood just right. Thirteen years after the splendid A Concord Jazz Christmas 2 was released, the 17-track set -- a sequel to 1994's A Concord Jazz Christmas -- is still a wonderful, emotionally compelling and stylistically eclectic listen and offers the perfect ambiance for any festive holiday party.

Beyond evoking memories of our childhoods and our jazzy sensibilities via colorful arrangements, it stands the test of time as a document of the richness of Concord's stable of jazz artists, from late legends (Mel Tormé, Maynard Ferguson, Jack McDuff) to contemporary greats (Nnenna Freelon) and lesser knowns (guitarist Jeff Linsky, altoist Jesse Davis) who still know how to rock and jazz it up around the Christmas tree.

Highlights include Ferguson's six-song "Christmas Medley" with his nine-piece, horn driven Big Bop Nouveau, Freelon's sparsely arranged, percussive "Spiritual Medley" of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" and "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and tenorman Rickey Woodard's easy swinging "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Other artists on the collection  seem lost to the shadows of Concord Christmas past but still ring bright such as Brazilian guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima ("Villancico De Navidad"), trumpeter Randy Sandke ("It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and the late bossa nova pianist Manfredo Fest ("Good King Wenceslas"). With the exception of Tormé's 1988 live take on his trademark "The Christmas Song," all these tracks were fresh mid-'90s recordings by these artists.

in this playlist.