Reviewing a Christmas record in the middle of lockdown is my idea of hell, me sitting in Dante’s lowest circle doubled down in the depths of despair. Well, I’m trying to ignore all that, for this is a rather intriguing set. Pianist Gabriel Latchin obviously likes Christmas, and as a jazz musician his choice of Christmas repertoire tends unsurprisingly towards songs in the style of the American songbook. But as he correctly points out, many of his chosen festive songs were in fact written in the classic songbook era of the 1930s and 40s and by some of the same composers, while others of them would be enjoyed all year round were Christmas not in their title. His festive selection is therefore mainly songbook-period classics plus two favourite perennial carols and one original composition.
His novel take on this music is to set himself “the exciting challenge of presenting these well-known tunes through the eyes of my musical idols. For example, how might Bill Evans approach I’ll Be Home For Christmas? What would Ahmad Jamal do with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer?” And the answer is: Surprisingly well. The bridges in Winter Wonderland and the crab-wise rising phrases in Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town are suitably Monk-like, Bill Evans is indeed playing I’ll Be Home in suitably refined style, while Ahmad Jamal tackles a sprightly Rudolph. Herbie Hancock, Phineas Newborn, Cedar Walton and Barry Harris join in the fun elsewhere.
Guessing musical influences on each song is all well and good, but if truth be told, the clearest stylist here is Latchin himself, his light touch, fluent, fleet-fingered delivery and genteel approach evident on every track. Di Lecce and Morrison are sympathetic in support but never dominant, the trio as a whole polite and well-mannered throughout.
Try as I might, I could not bring myself to dislike this festive set. It isn’t Latchin’s fault it arrived in untimely fashion during the second lockdown, and it will indeed serve well as a suitable audio backdrop to the never-ending horror that is Christmas (at least in my house it is). Bah humbug not, and enjoy this set. There’s little else to enjoy at the moment.
Hear/buy Gabriel Latchin Trio: I’ll Be Home For Christmas on Bandcamp
Winter Wonderland; Jingle Bells; Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town; I’ll Be Home For Christmas; A Toast To Friends; The Christmas Song; White Christmas; God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer; Silent Night (50.37)
Latchin (p); Dario Di Lecce (b); Josh Morrison (d). London, 4 August 2020.
Alys Jazz AJ1503