While there is an abundance every holiday season of new Christmas albums there are few jazz guitar Christmas albums available. Royce Campbell has decided to fill a void and he does so with understated greatness. Along with Tom Baldwin’s bass and Howard Curtis on the drums, Campbell’s guitar playing transports the listener to that big cozy quilt on the floor in front of the crackling fire on Christmas Eve with their loved ones. Their swinging style, riffs, and smooth melodic transitions allow the holiday festivities to take the forefront while the musicians fill the air with the Christmas spirit.
The CD opens with "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" performed with a 4/4 swing rhythm. Curtis’ opening drum riff is a great way to kick in the holiday spirit. The three men move right into a perennial Christmas favorite on the next track with Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas." Likely the most recorded Christmas song of all time, Campbell gives this traditional tune a bossa nova twist and pulls it off quite successfully.
Moving from the traditional to the present, Campbell offers up a composition of his own. Campbell wrote the song and lyrics to "Live Every Day Like Christmas" on Christmas morning one year. In order to get his entire message across, he employed Everette Greene’s deep, warm voice to convey the tune’s meaning. "O’ Christmas Tree" follows. While this traditional German carol is usually done in a 3/4 rhythm or waltz time, Campbell jazzes it up with a swing rhythm in 4/4 time.
The ballad "I’ll Be Home for Christmas" is transformed by Campbell’s trio into a slow bossa nova. The tempo will be perfect for when the children have settled into bed waiting for Santa Claus while Mom and Dad sip some eggnog in front of the fire. The tempo is picked back up, however, with the next track. From the opening notes of "Winter Wonderland" you know that the mood is going to get a bit more livelier with this swing version of the snowy classic.
The Christmas classic that we all grew up with, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is up next and is given a unique arrangement and a ripping drum solo. It begins with a funky groove and then flips and flops between a funky blues beat to swing rhythms. This is a beat the old bearded man in red would appreciate on his trip around the world on Christmas Eve. While not as well known as the other songs on the disc, Victor Herbert’s tune "Toyland" is beginning to emerge as a new jazz classic. Campbell’s trio performs it here as a quick jazz waltz. The tempo is slowed down for the next track. Howard Arlen’s relaxed ballad, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is the perfect tune for a snowy Christmas morning.
The melody of "We Three Kings" is introduced at the onset of the performance and quickly erodes into free form jazz. The improvisations of each artist on this track is outstanding and gives the tune a uniqueness that would be hard, if not impossible, to match. It is one of the highlights of the CD and should be given its just due with numerous listenings to catch every nuance and to let Campbell’s message of the tune sink in. With Curtis and Baldwin having signed off in the previous track, Campbell is allowed to close the CD on a personal note. Here he performs a solo version of the classic composition "The Christmas Song," written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells and made famous by Nat King Cole. The intimacy Campbell brings with his guitar is the perfect note with which to end the holiday season on.
If you are seeking out a great holiday recording to play during the Christmas season you would do no wrong by choosing Royce Campbell’s A Jazz Guitar Christmas. Whether you use it as a backdrop to your holiday party or as mood music to snuggle by the fireplace under only the lights of your tree, this is the CD to get.