Well, it's that time of year again, and I'm getting a lot of great swing-Christmas CDs, but Noel by singer Tianna Hall and guitarist Chris Cortez is one of the most perfect blends of trad and jazz I've heard over many years. And it's not actually swing per se but rather big band…though, as I say, so masterfully blended that it's often difficult to discern where the way cool stage arrangements leave off, the jazz modulations enter in, and the ages-old sonorities surrender their antiquities. Tianna Hall is kinda like an earthier Linda Ronstadt, highly accomplished but with more fire than wistfulness. Ronstadt is almost unparalleled in torch songs but, while Linda would be serving the Christmas turkey with an immaculate apron and a sweet smile, Tianna would be winking at you from across the table.
We Three Kings is a blow-out with a killer arrangement from Mark Piszczek that, deep into the cut, catches on fire…but always with a returning cool aplomb. Chris Cortez jumps into the middle eight with alternatingly laid back and zesty guitar work not all that dissimilar to what one would hear from Skunk Baxter on a Steely Dan LP, and you get a royal helping of Chris solo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, a very pensive take on the classic. Hall then manages to make O Come O Come Emmanuel sound sexy rather than officious, as it's always been, full of a yearning that's far from religious, turning the track into a big-band blueser.
The group's four-piece horn section adds considerable top-end luster to everything and then—when solo time comes, as in Woody Witt's section in Emmanuel, wherein the gent assumes command—you get that old-time jazz vibe ever more strongly, after which Cortez takes over and starts bringing things back to the mainline. Like Bob DeVos (here), he zones in on pure notes and chords shorn of ornamentalia like tremelo and hammer-ons. The penultimate Santa Baby, a crowd pleaser for many years injecting eros into the holidays, is a stripped-down duet twixt Hall and Cortez, with Hall breathy and hijinxy against Cortez's Gene Leis strumming and soloing. With this CD playing through your stereo, the Christmas candles are going to burn a good deal brighter.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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