(Cassel Music, CD)
Holiday songs are plentiful this time of year, as anyone attempting to shop without getting "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" stuck in their head can attest. Still, there's a lot of timeless music associated with the season, and Vermont jazz pianist John Cassel performs some of it on his new disc, Christmas Music From the Trapp Family Lodge, Volume One.
Cassel has been tickling the ivories for more than three decades, and, while his new effort won't unseat Vince Guaraldi as the king of Yuletide piano, it makes for a fine listen.
It's always nice to hear a tradition-oriented Christmas album, especially in a day and age when pitch-corrected pop stars are further plasticizing an already commercial holiday.
But maybe that's just my inner Grinch talking. At any rate, Cassel should be commended for his choice in tunes.
The CD opens with "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which is elegantly voiced by the seasoned performer. The vibrant "Good King Wenceslas/Wassail Song" follows, its familiar melody missing only the sound of a crackling fireplace.
I'm glad to report that my favorite Christmas number is among the chosen. There's something about "O Holy Night" that puts a lump in my throat, and Cassel's articulate take on the tune is no exception.
On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if I never heard "White Christmas" again. Still, Cassel turns in a respectable version. More intriguing is "A La Nanita Nana," performed as a duet between Cassel and Maria von Trapp with arrangement assistance from fellow pianist Tom Cleary.
"Jumpin' Jinglin' Reindeer Waltz" is an original composition that fits well with the rest of the selections. Jaunty and cheerful, it calls to mind playful snowball fights and the thrill of opening presents. Cassel's rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is likewise spirited, with a slight swing that betrays his jazzy roots.
The disc closes on a more reflective note, with "Greensleeves/What Child Is This?" Cassel's lilting way with these timeworn melodies shows that he's got a great feel for interpretation.
The cynic in me wonders if the world could possibly need another Christmas album. But if it does, it might as well be this one.