Vintage Christmas Wonderland (2013) Reviews
Vintage Christmas (2011) Reviews
Ron Harris, Associated Press (AP) “Seamlessly melding the some traditional compositions with the perfect hint of lounge-meets-jazz phrasing…”
David Ian, “Vintage Christmas” (Prescott)
Jazz pianist David Ian treats the classics with a deft hand on “Vintage Christmas,” seamlessly melding the some traditional compositions with the perfect hint of lounge-meets-jazz phrasing. There’s a way to botch this approach, to make it too kitschy. Ian knows better and meanders from the traditional approach just enough to keep it interesting, but without too many extra instruments mucking up the arrangement. His minimalist piano work delivers a clean approach here.The best moments come when Ian is paired with vocals by Acacia, one half of the sister-duo group Tal & Acacia. Her tone is dreamy on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” without excessive back-phrasing which some vocalists have employed on this standard. Ian best work is evident on his vocal-free rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” with just some soft bass notes and drum work to back him up. His explorations with the melody are mild and it’s nice that he doesn’t meander off into a jazz jungle of unrelated riffs. If there’s something close to a dud here it’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s tough to make this staid song soar and he doesn’t here. Other than that misstep, Ian and company have delivered a timeless take on these Christmas regulars.
Michael Bloom Media Relations, All About Jazz “Might be the best holiday jazz album of 2011.”
How does an ear-splitting, note-shredding rock guitarist who leaps off amps in concert end up releasing an album of mellow, jazz-oriented Christmas songs? While most people would think such a scenario improbable, to say the least, David Ian views it as a natural progression in a multifaceted music career. Born in Toronto, Canada to Armenian immigrant parents, Ian came early to music, beginning classical piano study at age five. A few years later, he experienced a moment of epiphany: “After seeing Back to the Future, I realized that playing guitar was my destiny. It really wasn’t even a choice.” Ian performed in a number of garage bands throughout junior high and high school, and after graduating from college became lead guitarist in the acclaimed band Church of Rhythm. That group eventually morphed into the even more successful rock group Superchick, which earned a Grammy nomination award in 2009 for best Rock/Rap Gospel Album. But Ian was no one-trick pony, having begun a lifelong love affair with jazz in his early teens. He studied jazz piano with noted teacher Pat Pace, and joined with fellow students to help initiate the jazz lab curriculum at his high school in Akron, Ohio. When he conceived the idea of recording this Christmas record, he drew inspiration from two legendary jazz pianists. “I tried to capture some of the essence of the gorgeous voicing and phrasing of Bill Evans in his interpretations of ballads, as well as the festive approach of Vince Guaraldi, particularly his injection of the blues.” While dozens of Christmas albums are released each year, the most evocative ones are often those made by jazz musicians. This should come as no surprise, since the emotional primacy in the best jazz music echoes the spirituality inherent in the best Christmas songs. Jazz and Yuletide music have a long and complementary history, from Chet Baker’s Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas to Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card. Taking proud place in this music lineage is David Ian Vintage Christmas, which breathes new life into a set of familiar Christmas classics in relaxed, swinging arrangements that capture the spirit of the season while respecting the sanctity of the material. Rather than burying the songs under a wall of sound, Ian has opted for a small jazz combo that places the accent firmly on their melodic and lyrical content. In this beguiling blend of instrumental and vocal versions, the mood is intimate, the vibe is mellow, the sound warm and inviting. Ian selected songs that have always given him the greatest feeling of Christmas, while managing to take them in fresh directions. A prime example is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which is typically performed in stately, hymn-like fashion. Ian, however, gives the beautiful melody an up-tempo jazz inflection. The song remains the same, but projects a completely new range of colors and shadings. Ian was also careful to retain the songs’ emotional core. The arrangement for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” begins in a minor key that speaks to the difficult emotions many people feel during the holidays. Yet, as the tune develops, he imbues it with a sense of emotional lift and spiritual resolve. For “Silent Night,” Ian evokes the poignancy of the first Christmas, painting a musical picture of the struggle of Joseph and Mary with a less literal, more implied melody. “I believe the meaning of Christmas to be one of hope in someone greater than ourselves; in the birth of a Savior who ensures that the world need not bear its burdens alone. My objective with these arrangements is to help direct the listener to that sense of hope.” As the title of the record suggests, Ian sought to create a vintage sound, one that harks back to classic jazz and Christmas LPs of the 1950s. Hence, his decision to use a trio format (Ian on piano and guitar, Jon Estes on upright bass, Brian Fitch on drums) augmented by guest vocalists Acacia (of the sister duo Tal and Acacia) and Andre Miguel Mayo. “I tried to bring the arrangements within reach of the listener; I want them to feel like they’re sitting by the fire in their living room listening to these melodically driven, mid-century arrangements. Each instrument, tone and note on this recording was purposefully chosen in an attempt to take the listener to that time and place.” Ian displays a light, inventive touch on his piano solos. His playing suggests Evans’ singing melodic lines, but is invested with a personal conception of time and harmony and an effortless sense of rhythm. Like all good soloists, Ian keeps the song’s melody close at hand even while spinning out free-flowing improvisations. He’s equally adept providing support for the vocalists, each of whom brings a unique approach to the musical table. “The tone and character of their voices fit the arrangements like puzzle pieces,” Ian says. “Their singing has the perfect blend of maturity and youth for this recording.” Acacia is blessed with a young/old voice that has something of Julie London’s breathy quality, and she interprets the lyrics to these timeless songs with unadorned, old school reverence. Her knowing version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” helps us reflect on good times past as well as the good times to come. Mayo’s singing has a smoky, unconventional quality coupled with pleasingly off-center phrasing that foregrounds the playful and romantic lyrics to “Let it Snow.” The two combine their complementary sounds for a spirited duet that closes the session. In addition to covering much-loved standards, Ian wrote a Yuletide number that has a nice and easy swing that would be right at home on a classic holiday recording by Frank, Nat, or Bing. The jaunty “Christmas Time with You” was inspired by Ian’s long-distance relationship with the woman who became his wife in 2009. The lyrics deftly capture the season’s cold/warm dichotomy: “Christmas time with you, even though it’s cold outside, we’ll be all right. I’ll be warm with you here, let’s get together it’s Christmas time.” It goes without saying that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without all of the trimmings: a fresh-cut tree draped in baubles, bangles and beads, twinkling lights adorning eaves and windows, strategically placed mistletoe, a turkey in the oven and eggnog in the fridge. But it just doesn’t feel like the holidays until you’ve got those familiar Christmas tunes spreading good cheer from your speakers. So deck the halls with boughs and holly. Roast some chestnuts by the fire. Walk in a winter wonderland. Be merry and bright. Be joyful and triumphant. And don’t forget to include David Ian Vintage Christmas in your music rotation. You’re guaranteed to have yourself a swinging little Christmas.
Mark S. Tucker, A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange “A release that will easily whether the years and decades to come”
C’mon, admit it, you know you’re a sucker for a good holiday disc. I am too, anything from the ripping rock of Gary Ho-Ho-Hoey’s discs to the strange coolness of the Ghostly Trio to the down home refrains of The Skaggs Family. When they’re done right, these CDs bring on a righteous wave of nostalgia with twists on, or fidelities to, beloved refrains. Well, David Ian’s Vintage Christmas is one of those you’ll soon come to very much dig, immediately placing it, as I have, beside the classic Guaraldi Xmas gigs—with a bit of Moonlight Sonata and a touch of Satie—’cause the disc simultaneously swings while possessed of a beautiful frailty, especially when Acacia starts out the whole thing with a bird on the wire tremulous take on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I don’t know who this chanteuse is, have never run across her before, but four tracks feature her vocals, and I could listen all day long and well into the night. Ian fuses warmth and breeziness in piano ministrations amid a trio executing letter-perfect renditions of West Coast Cool versions of nine classics and one original, all and sundry swingin’ while pensive. Though Ian’s normally, now get this, an antic heavy metal guitarist in the band Superchick, nominated for a 2009 Grammy, he began his musical career at age 5, studying classical piano. His drop dead surety of touch and perspicuity in intonation vouch for that long apprenticeship, and, while I very much, as a headbanger myself, laud his vigor in sonic barbarities, the final analysis may well see him taking his place in the jazz pantheon, ’cause Vintage Christmas is pristine and hints of the superior virtues of a Chris Abrahams (The Necks). Of course, then there are the guy’s Kessel / Ellis / Byrd / Green jazz guitar lines as well—restrained, tasty, to the point. Andre Miguel Mayo also guests and captures the vocal presence of a New York City busker, a cat on the street side of studied. He pops up on two cuts and then duets with Acacia on a second version of Ian’s Christmas Time with You to close the disc. References to Brubeck, Bill Evans, Nat King Cole, and Chet Baker are as inevitable as Guaraldi by the time the eleven cuts come to an end, and the clever Vanity Fair / Playboy Pad / New Yorker cover art by Jeremy Morgan is a picture perfect evocation of elder times revamped. Of the various holiday CDs I’m buying or seeing as submissions for review consideration, this is the clear prize winner, a release that will easily weather the years and decades to come as mood music of choice for the discerning palettes of cool cats, hipsters, beat sophisticates, young and old modernes, and even atheist hepzibahumbugs like myself.
Carol Banks Weber, Jazz Music Examiner “Objective achieved”
Customer Reviews from Amazon.com, “This is a great Christmas album–everything about it is perfect, from the music to the vocals…it’s easy to listen to even if you’re not into jazz. This is a must have for the home, car, parties, anywhere and for everyone of all ages.” Read more reviews
Received honorable mention from USA Today for David Ian Vintage Christmas.