Contemporary Jazz

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Travelin' For Christmas

14 DEC 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

Come on, all you closet jazz tuba fans, you know there's nothing more fun than celebrating the holidays listening to your favorite massive, low-toned marching band instrument! Telarc went to town in 1993, signing Travelin' Light -- the fascinating, witty and swinging duo of tuba master Sam Pilafian and banjo player and guitarist Frank Vignola -- and releasing Makin' Whoopee and Christmas With Travelin' Light.

The duo, which had debuted independently two years earlier with a self-titled release, engaged the extraordinary ensemble of clarinetist Ken Peplowski, guitarist Don Keiling, drummer Joe Ascione and percussionist Andy Kubiezewski for their colorful 16-track cup of Christmas cheer. With styles varying from folk to Dixieland, the duo keeps the flow interesting by switching off lead instruments. For example, the tuba doubles with clarinet for much of an appropriately brisk "Sleigh Ride," while "Jingle Bells" snaps and jangles along on the Vignola's plucky banjo as a New Orleans shuffle groove rumbles in the background.

The group plays many of these songs traditionally and close to the vest, but has more fun when venturing off the beaten path and getting a bit silly (with sound effects to boot) on "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Pilafian, longtime tuba player of the Empire Brass, has also performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Philip Glass and Pink Floyd. Heavily inspired by Django Reinhardt, Vignola is the founder of the celebrated group the Hot Club of France (which once included violin legend Stephane Grapelli) and has also played with Peplowski, Leon Redbone and Billy Mitchell.

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