It's also when we might expect a fresh cover of Guaraldi's album to drop, and we've been blessed with a rather unusual one this year: The Canadian Brass' Christmas Time Is Here.
Needless to say, this is rather novel instrumentation for a recording initially conceived and performed by a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. The Canadian Brass is fronted by a quintet of horns — Chris Coletti, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eric Reed, French horn; Chuck Daellenbach, tuba; Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone; and Caleb Hudson, trumpet/piccolo trumpet — and backed by some orchestral elements, and the result brings new meaning to the term "droll."
(No surprise: The instrumentation and arrangements remind me strongly of French hornist Aaron Brask's The Guaraldi Sessions album. Which you should dig up, if you've not yet heard it.)
As you might expect, the Brass don't really "swing" in any jazz sense, and their arrangements of Guaraldi's up-tempo numbers — notably "Christmas Is Coming" — are likely to raise eyebrows. But the horns work surprisingly well when carrying the melody of "Skating," and their handling of "My Little Drum" builds to a pleasantly dramatic finish. The Brass also covers the traditional carols Guaraldi included on his album; "O Tannenbaum" and "The Christmas Song" are particularly gentle and sweet, while "What Child Is This" offers something perilously close to jazz noodling during the bridge.
As befits the ensemble's classical leanings, the album also includes Christopher Dedrick's "The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter" and a blend of Bach's BWV 29 and Leontovych's "Carol of the Bells," titled "Bach's Bells," along with a few more contemporary carols: "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (and the less said about the vocals that conclude the latter, the better).
Rather oddly, the Amazon entry lists only 14 tracks on the disc, which (incorrectly) suggests that the additional four tracks are available solely via download, or as some sort of bonus. This is simply untrue; the CD includes all 18 tracks.
But enough with the mere facts; let's rate this album on the "Guaraldi scale" I established last year, when discussing other covers of A Charlie Brown Christmas. On that basis, this Canadian Brass release gets 25 points for featuring all five of the traditional songs Guaraldi arranged on his album, and 25 points for including "Fur Elise" ... but only 15 points (out of 20) for covering Guaraldi's original compositions. Rather oddly, the Brass skip "Linus and Lucy." Finally, their track sequencing is nowhere close to that of Guaraldi's album, so no points at all in the fourth category. The final tally: 65 points, which is quite respectable.
I'll be discussing A Charlie Brown Christmas and other aspects of Guaraldi's career during a live radio chat this Friday morning, December 6, on WFAE 90.7 FM, the National Public Radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'll be featured from 9 to 10 a.m. (EST) on "Charlotte Talks, with Mike Collins," so West Coasters will need to get up early. WFAE offers a live stream here (click the "Listen Live" button, in the upper left), and I'm told the audio will be available later as both a podcast and download, with the additional possibility of a replay on Christmas Day. Sweet!