Bethlehem After Darkby Butch Thompson
Jazz-oriented Christmas albums have often consisted of bop versions of American Christmas pop tunes -- typically, you will hear cute standards like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" getting the hard bop treatment. But Bethlehem After Dark is one jazz-oriented Christmas album that is devoid of bop and avoids the usual Christmas pop favorites. Forming a duo with cellist Laura Sewell, pianist Butch Thompson is thinking more in terms of European yuletide carols -- and his pianism is swing and stride (with classical overtones) rather than bop. Thompson and Sewell's lyricism is warm and sentimental on material that ranges from Schubert's "Ave Maria" to traditional carols like "Joy to the World," "Coventry Carol," and "Carol of the Birds" (which is a Catalonian piece). Some jazz purists might think that their playing is too sentimental, but then, this is Christmas album -- it should be sentimental. The musicians (who recorded this CD in 1999 and 2000) also turn their attention to James P. Johnson's "Snow Morning Blues" and Joseph Lamb's "Reindeer Rag," which work perfectly well alongside the European classics that they interpret. If you're searching for an interesting and thoughtful jazz-oriented Christmas offering, Bethlehem After Dark is well worth checking out.
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