FAME Review: Manhattan Brass - Manhattan Holiday
Manhattan Brass - Manhattan Holiday

Manhattan Holiday

Manhattan Brass

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

This is so cool I can barely find the words. Manhattan Holiday is the Christmas release from a band that, when it says it's brass, means it. There's nothing BUT brass here everywhere you look: no bass, no guitar, no drums, not even a sax (which many mistake as brass—it ain't, Jeeter, it's a woodwind), just trumpets (2), trombones (2), and horns (2), and the songs are often irreverently but lovingly arranged to take full advantage of everything to hand. The Manhattan Brass prides itself on breaking down barriers and they surely do, putting a richly informed spin on every bar and measure. If I tell you that Carla Bley and Jack Walrath split the arranging chores between them, then you start to get an idea of just how far-flung things can get.

The band had been around quite a while, well regarded and highly talented, but, in 2004, got an extra shot in the arm as luminary Lew Soloff and viruoso David Taylor joined. Used to interpreting classical, modern classical, avant-garde, free jazz, and other musics, the two new guys brought in even more ideas, to the point that they're basically a horn version of the Kronos Quartet, and, in any just context, would be carried by the ECM label…had that leonine outfit not gotten screwed when joining the pelikan-hedz in the Universal distribution system and then begun dwindling. I mean, combos like the Art Ensemble, Either-Orchestra, or any of a number of outside ensembles have nothing on Manhattan Brass.

The question, then, is this really Christmas music? Oh hell no!…even though it is. It's actually just as much satirical (the swozzled It Came upon a Midnight Clear, Jingle Bells) as reverent (The Christmas Song, etc.) as freak-out (Funky Stuffing) as avant-garde (many places) as jazz (Lil Drummer Dude) as purely adventurous. In terms of a holiday feast, the CD's soup to nuts, embracing just about everything, even baroque and classical strains. And if you're thinking "Man, these poor bastards must've burned synapses coming up with all this!", well, they took four years assembling the disc, so no really damaging decortication took place as far as I can tell…but it possibly could occur on your end of the deal, so I suggest having happy holiday hard cider to hand and imbibing liberally. What could it hurt?

Track List:

  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • A Merrier Christmas
  • Stuffy Turkey
  • Siciliana
  • The Christmas Song
  • O Tannenbaum
  • Jingle Bells
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Lil Drummer Dude
  • Joy to the World
The band didn't attribute writing credits, so I ain't neither. It is, after all, the celebratory end of the year, and my head's firmly in the wassail bowl too. So there.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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