CD REVIEW: Barbara Dennerlein – Christmas Soul

Barbara Dennerlein – Christmas Soul
(MPS, CD review by Mark McKergow)

Munich-born Hammond B3 organ virtuosa Barbara Dennerlein springs a festive treat with this well-worked collection of Christmas and other favourites. It can feel like a bit of a gamble to buy Christmas albums, but Dennerlein and her talented companions really succeed in creating a jazz-savvy mood and some nice surprises along the way.

The much-covered Christmas Time Is Here leads off, with Zara McFarlane’s vocals establishing the mood before Magnus Lindgren slides in with a super-glissanding clarinet solo. The production by Italian maestro Nicola Conte is smooth-ish with plenty of bongo action, lively percussion is a feature through the collection. Let It Snow in a nicely re-thought arrangement follows, underpinned by Luca Alemanno’s bass riffing.

Next is one of two versions of Miles Davis/Bob Dorough’s Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern), which Dorough wrote for the 1962 Columbia album Jingle Bell Jazz (well worth a listen itself, with jazz  settings of festive favourites by the likes of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.) We are treated to an extended instrumental version, with Dennerlein’s organ and Lindgren’s tenor sax to the fore. Later in the album comes the vocal version complete with Gil Evans-ish So What riffing, and McFarlane setting about Dorough’s neatly cynical lyrics:

"When you're blue at Xmas time
You see right through all the waste
All the sham, all the haste
And plain old bad taste…
It's a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy."

This is just one of some very nice ‘proper jazz’ nods through the album. Dennerlein turns We Three Kings into a rolling 6/8 workout (with 7/8 lines in the chorus – no, it really works…). The German favourite Oh Tannenbaum turns into a nicely grooving number, which you can claim is the Red Flag when Uncle Jeremy comes round. The Sherman Brothers’ Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins may not be quite totally Christmassy but sits very well here - Dennerlein wisely chooses not to compete with John Coltrane in terms of duration, but presents a galloping arrangement with plenty of percussion and a lively tenor solo from Lindgren. As with many of the tracks, there are nice little chordal shifts and unexpected turns that take us well over the border into jazz territory.

As a jazztastic Christmas present, or as a record to play while digging into the feast, or even if you just like organ jazz, Christmas Soul would be an excellent choice.

LINK: Album Trailer on video from MPS/Edel

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