Yellowjackets: Bob Mintzer (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Russell Ferrante (piano, synthesizer); Jimmy Haslip (synthesizer, bass instrument); Marcus Baylor (drums).
This progressive jazz supergroup had previously contributed tracks to three high-profile holiday jazz recordings (including a GRP collection and Take 6's He Is Christmas), but never took the full plunge into the stocking stuffer realm until now. There's definitely a sense of spunk and spontaneity as the quartet does its first and second takes, but most of the arrangements are pretty standard jazz hipster stuff, allowing for saxman Bob Mintzer, pianist Russ Ferrante, and bassist Jimmy Haslip to impress listeners with cool solos. But those solos do make a difference, so while Marcus Baylor's drum line and the sax melody on "The Little Drummer Boy" are middle of the road, Haslip's and Ferrante's solo improvisations add some originality and flash. "Silent Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" arrive in the standard ballad mode, lush and pretty. "Deck the Halls" has a tense, marching drumbeat that keeps listeners tapping, but the title track is just pleasant atmosphere stuff for watching the snow fall. The best swing comes in the arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which utilizes each member to his maximum potential and embodies the joy of the holiday spirit. Sure, it's hard to find original ways to do these well-worn tunes, but an ensemble known for its innovation could have spruced things up much more. ~ Jonathan Widran