Cellar Live Records, which has been quietly building a very strong catalogue of Canadian jazz artists, give us another quality recording with the Cellar Live Christmas album featuring the B3 Kings, joined by the Bruno Hubert Trio. The mostly instrumental album features Cory Weeds on alto saxophone, one of my favorite guitarists Bill Coon, some good B3 organ vibes from Chris Gestrin and drummer Denzal Sinclaire. Bassist Andre Lachance joins the musicians for five of the tracks, while drummer Brad Turner appears on five songs. On a couple of tunes, Sinclaire is also featured on vocals.
The CD, which was recorded at The Factory on August 29th, 2005, opens with a funky rendition of "Jingle Bells" that highlights Gestrin’s B3 chops and Weeds’ smooth sax. I also loved Coons’ extended guitar solo. Sinclaire’s lively drumming and percussion work are a treat and keep the song moving along nicely. If you enjoying hearing some old familiar holiday tunes with new twists, this one should grab you by the ears.
I need to confess that I have never enjoyed the song "The Little Drummer Boy" as it seems to go endlessly with those ba rump a bum bums. We would be remiss however in not making mention of Sinclaire’s smooth, suave vocals, reminiscent of Andy Williams, when he was at his peak in the 50s and s60s.
There are no surprises on this CD in terms of original compositions, but there is no shortage of new arrangements for these tunes, with most of the musicians playing a hand in one or more of the songs’ arrangements. There is a straight-ahead jazz version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that is carried primarily by Hubert’s piano and Sinclaire’s drums. There is an upbeat "I Saw Three Ships" that includes an open section with some improvisation and a lovely bass solo by Lachance. Although there is some debate whether the song originates early in the 19th century or the 17th century, the meter suggests the earlier date and the ensemble does a good job of mixing the traditional with infusions that are more modern.
Sinclaire puts together another fine vocal performance for "We Three Kings." This time his attitude is less suave, but more deeply emotive. If the other musicians on this piece were no more than average, which they are not, Gestrin’s B3 vibes alone would make this song worth listening to.
For the true jazz aficionado A Cellar Live Christmas should be a welcome addition to your holiday collection of music because it is not a group of jazz musicians trying to play songs outside their comfort zone, but instead reinterpreting classic within a jazz context and that makes for a delightful experience.