Peter Smith Quartet,
Yule Like This
(PoteSmote, 2000)

It's very odd to listen to Christmas music in the middle of a summer heatwave. The Peter Smith Quartet, with Yule Like This, evokes the Christmas spirit thoroughly, to a surreal effect for me now. Odd though it is, I enjoyed the album a great deal, and know it will fit in well with some of my Christmas theme music, like other jazz and possibly swing; I look forward to hearing it juxtaposed with Ella Fitzgerald!

Yule Like This is mellow jazz, with something of a period feel. It has none of the discordances of some modern jazz styles and is a uniformly pleasant listening experience. The risk with mellow jazz is that it can easily veer into blandness. To my ear the Peter Smith Quartet avoids this almost all the time. It's mellow, yes, but not mechanical or without soul. The musicians are skilled, and the arrangements effective.

The songs are split between Christmas classics old and relatively new, and other songs that fit into the theme. "Tenor Gladness" shows off the musicians' skill beautifully, with several solos that capture phrases of carols among their improvisations. Nicely done! "Look To the Sky" and "New Bossa" have a Latin sound accenting the jazz, and it works.

Of the classics, "Blue Christmas" turns very jazzy here. I especially enjoyed the "Mr. Grinch" suite that incorporated most of the musical themes from the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" animated show. And while I've gotten very tired of "Little Drummer Boy" over the years, this version is a winner.

The only less-successful song here, I think, is "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The singer, Heather Bambrick, has a lovely voice and phrasing, but doesn't evoke the other half of the duet well enough to make up for the absence of another singer. It's conceptually interesting to have the male part taken by a saxophone, but that song is so essentially a dialogue -- both between a man and a woman, and between the woman's longing and her discretion -- that it loses something when it becomes a simple song, even when done well.

Yule Like This is a very enjoyable CD of mellow Christmas jazz. I look forward to hearing it in its proper season, and know it will a good musical accompaniment to relaxing and enjoying the warmth of the holidays.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 20 August 2001