22 May All About Jazz
Gentle Listener: Please put on your driving goggles before listening to The Stan Kenton Christmas Carols. Kenton’s otherwise bombastic arrangements, forever maligned as over-the-top, work perfectly on Christmas Carols. In fact, stunningly so. Kenton, along with arranger Ralph Carmichael, created music that shimmered, often approaching genius. One need go no further than the opening pieces “Good King Wenceslas” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” to hear Kenton’s shiny brass vision in the rhythm horns that atalyzes the tunes.
This luminous effect is accented by Kenton and Carmichael’s liberal use of counterpoint. Again, think of Bach. Imagine Bach on the road with Art Pepper, smoking a Pall Mall and drinking scotch. The Boston Brass pulls off these charts with powerful style and grace, capturing Kenton’s intention accurately without being rote. There is a momentum behind all of these arrangements that vibrates the heart and truly celebrates the season. Most of the pieces are less than three minutes long, existing as lightning flashes of brilliance.
Of the longer pieces, “Greensleeves” reveals itself as the disc show stopper. It begins loud and proud, settling into a Latin-propelled descending figure that provides the ancient melody with an almost James Bond-soundtrack foothold. The arrangement sounds like a cross between Ennio Morricone and Morton Stevens. JD Smith’s trumpet (Smith also arranged the piece) could melt the polar icecaps, while the entire band pours it on in a molten manner.
All the tracks sound fresh and sonically scrubbed. While Kenton may have always been a bit over-the-top as an orchestra leader, he’s shown in perfect balance with his ambition on The Stan Kenton Christmas Carols. The Boston Brass sublimely capture both the spirit of Kenton and the holiday season, providing the listener with an exceptional musical experience.- C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz