Peace Round: A Christmas Celebration
(Heads Up, 2004)

In 2006, the Yellowjackets will celebrate the 25-year mark in a career that has produced 17 albums of jazz excellence. Although they have contributed the occasional track to Christmas compilation albums, Peace Round is their first full-length Christmas release. The music selections vary from popular to Old English traditional, but all lend themselves exceptionally well to the Yellowjackets' jazz interpretations.

This is essentially instrumental piano jazz with the lead melody played on sax by Bob Mintzer. Russell Ferrante is at the piano, backed by Jimmy Haslip on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums. This treatment works really well on songs like "Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night" and superbly mellow renditions of "Deck the Halls," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

The title track is an old English canon, performed in a spare and contemplative style on piano and sax that builds in intensity as it reaches a slightly familiar melody, offering a soft yet powerful statement by these jazz masters. The album's best track is "The First Noel," which features a guest appearance by Jean Baylor who totally nails the song with a vocal that is sweet, soulful, and jazzy all at once. Jean has previously appeared on two other Yellowjackets albums and is currently working on a solo recording.

The bass takes the lead melody on a nice moody version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem." "Winter Wonderland" lightens the proceedings a bit, then the album concludes with a great, unique version of "Silent Night" titled "In a Silent Night," referring to the arrangement inspired by Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis.

The Yellowjackets arranged and produced the album with a nice open mix that gives all the instruments room to breathe and be heard. Jazz and Christmas go together very agreeably when done well, and Peace Round is a perfect example that comes highly recommended.

by William Kates
17 December 2005

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