Take Five presents a roundup of five new holiday tunes, with a throwback bonus.
Wynton Marsalis and Friends, Featuring Oni Marsalis, “Jingle Bells”
There’s no shortage of Yuletide Wynton, from Big Band Holidays, released a couple of years ago, all the way back to Crescent City Christmas Card, in 1989. But earlier this month, Marsalis offered a festive new single in high style: “Jingle Bells,” in a quintet arrangement designed to feature his daughter, Oni Marsalis, on vocals.
The clip comes branded to the hilt: in addition to spotlighting Jazz at Lincoln Center, it was filmed at Spotify Studios, as a promotion for Brooks Brothers. (Everyone on set — the Marsalises as well as Walter Blanding, Adam Birnbaum, Evan Sherman and Russell Hall — is appropriately clad, with a focus on holiday tartan.) If you can get past all that, it’s a delightful performance, with Oni’s precocious, unflappable delivery framed by a spiffy small-group arrangement.
Gregory Porter, “The Christmas Song”
Mel Torme, who co-wrote “The Christmas Song,” used to say that the unsurpassable version was the one famously recorded by Nat King Cole. (Torme, who sang a beautiful version himself, was correct.) It’s easy to imagine Cole bestowing a similar blessing on this new iteration, performed with mellow ardency by Gregory Porter. The track was included on Porter’s recent Nat King Cole & Me, which isn’t a holiday album, though it’s probably finding its way onto many a Christmas list. If Porter hasn’t already considered a full-blown holiday album, he clearly should.
Frank Sinatra with Seal, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”
‘Tis the season for corporate synergies and unlikely partners, as this new single illustrates. A bonus tie-in to Seal’s new album, Standards, it’s a beyond-the-grave duet with Frank Sinatra, on a beloved Christmas tune. The video makes an effort to depict the artists in the studio together, and to show Seal’s best Rat Pack affinities. (Standards was mostly recorded in Capitol Studios, with musicians including pianist Randy Waldman, an alum of Sinatra’s band.) As Sinatra duets go, it’s suave and inoffensive, neither an enhancement nor an affront. It probably falls somewhere in between the “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” featuring Frank with Cyndi Lauper, in 1992, and the one that digitally splices him in with Kylie Minogue, from 2015.
Herb Alpert, “White Christmas”
Herb Alpert made his first Christmas album almost 50 years ago, with the Tijuana Brass; it was plainly titled Christmas Album, and released in 1968. This year Alpert returned to a holiday theme with The Christmas Wish, featuring a 45-piece orchestra and 32-member choir. His wife, Lani Hall, appears on much of the album, but this easygoing “White Christmas” puts his trumpet alone in the foreground. This track recently garnered a Grammy nomination for its arranger, Chris Walden, who sets the mood with a Hollywood-noir introduction.
Dave Koz Featuring Selina Albright, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
One harbinger of the holiday season over the last 20 years has been a popular tour by smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz. This year, he took a commemorative turn with Dave Koz and Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas, an album of Yuletide standards with some longtime partners: pianist David Benoit, guitarist Peter White and trumpeter Rick Braun. This track, a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” features guest vocals by Selina Albright, who is also a member of the extended family: her father is saxophonist Gerald Albright. Selina brings an assured pop-R&B inflection to the song, and her instrumental backing is warm and tasteful.
Geri Allen, “We Three Kings”
All five of the tracks above are new releases. This is a bonus tribute. Geri Allen, whom we lost this year, made one of the standout Christmas albums in recent memory: A Child is Born, released in 2011. It includes this version of “We Three Kings,” which Allen reframes a few different ways, at one point playing the melody on a celeste. It’s a reflective reading that captures the mystery within the carol — the presentation of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the faithful tracking of a westward star. (A Child is Born is available on Motéma).