Holiday discs can make the season bright

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 8:54 p.m.


‘Christmas Time is Here'

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (Knoxjazz)

‘Many Times, Many Ways'

Halie Loren and Matt Treder (Justin Time)

‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'

Various artists (Justin Time)

Like holiday concerts, Christmas albums are tough. The songs are so familiar, doing them can seem like making a sandwich of stale bread. But change them too much, and offense is likely. The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and singer Halie Loren know how to do it right. “Christmas Time is Here” is a great collection of big-band looks at holiday music. From the pretty version of the Vince Guaraldi title song to a nicely swinging “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the band never falls out of its groove, but never leads the songs astray. The work of Loren and pianist Matt Treder is equally strong. She sticks mostly to songs that have earned themselves a home as popular holiday hits and presents them in tasteful ways with her lovely, controlled style. A duo album, it has a quiet feeling and could fade into the background. But paying a little attention to it reveals good musicianship. Meanwhile, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” earns mention by being a rich collection of holiday hits from jazz masters. The 13 offerings include Diana Krall doing “Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song,” Hank Jones offering an instrumental version of that same“The Christmas Song,” the Rob McConnell Tentet offering a “Christmas Medley” and Hilary Kole doing the title song and “Let It Snow.” There are many Christmas albums out there, but three can make the season bright.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Movie Night'

International String Trio (Cypress)

String quartets have a defined nature that produces an expected sound. Take away a member, make one of the strings different and a total difference is created as “Movie Night” shows. The International String Trio is a violin, bass and guitar, and can produce music that swings in a gypsy-jazz nature as it does on “Minor Swing” from “Chocolat” or play the classical sounding adagio of the theme from “Schindler's List.” The album, as the title would hint, is a collection of 12 tunes from movies. Some are expected, melodious favorites such as “Laura” from that film and “Lara's Theme” from “Doctor Zhivago.” Others are less expected such as “The Second Waltz” from “Eyes Wide Shut” or “I'm Shipping Up to Boston” from “The Departed.” All are done well and appropriately, with the guitar of Slava Tolstoy being the deciding factor in creating an musical identity. The album closes like a well-planned concert, with one of its best offerings, “Ashokan Farewell” from Ken Burns' “The Civil War.”

— Bob Karlovits

‘Travelin' Light'

Dena DeRose (Maxjazz)

Dena DeRose is not kidding when she names her current disc “Travelin' Light.” The album that bears that name is an excellent collection of 13 mostly well-known bits of jazz the singer-pianist does solo. Recorded in a club in Antwerp, the album has no pretense. It is a distinguished presentation of good material ranging from Miles Davis' “Blue in Green” to “Nice 'n Easy” — done just that way. The Davis song opens with a piano solo that leads convincingly into the vocal. DeRose is a fine pianist, but her controlled voice is what makes her stand out. She dabbles in scat, but, just like her presentation of lyrics, that technique never gets out of control. She never stretches melodies too much, always knowing when to give a little tug as in “East of the Sun,” Conversely, on “Why Did I Choose You,” she lets Michael Leonard's writing be the convincing element.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Of One's Own'

Jeff Holmes (Miles High)

Saxophonist Adam Kolker does such a good job on “Of One's Own,” the album would appear to be his. It isn't, but adding his fine play to the work of pianist Jeff Holmes creates a strong product. Holmes, director of jazz studies at the University of Massachusetts, wrote four of the nine tunes on the release. His works include the lovely “The Senses Delight,” the uptempo “Labour Day” and a thoughtful “Rose on Driftwood,” which features Kolker on bass clarinet. Besides his originals, Holmes provides a gentle look at “Poinciana” and an easy-going “Waltz #3.” In addition to the work of Kolker and Holmes, the album is highlighted by the solid bass work of James Cammack, the long-time associate of Ahmad Jamal. About the only disappointing track on the album is “So Long, Farewell,” which gives the Richard Rodgers piece a bit of artificial swing.

— Bob Karlovits

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