"How heavenly heaven can be." That's a line from an old jazz standard called For Heaven's Sake that Billy Holiday made a hit a very long time ago. If your idea of heaven is jazz/pop/blues driven by sumptuous arrangements, with an assured, mature vocalist at the controls, you can listen to the newest release from Mississauga songstress Carol McCartney and discover just how heavenly jazz can be…
Canadian songbird Anne Murray has always had success with her gentle, traditional approach to Christmas and holiday music, and "What a Wonderful Christmas" is no exception. The majority of the songs on this two-CD set are faithful Christmas chestnuts ("Joy to the World," "Away in a Manger," "O Holy Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), with a few lesser-known, non-traditional numbers ("This Season Will Never Grow Old," "Christmas Wishes," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy"). All of the songs are delivered in a warm acoustic setting, with a handful featuring tasteful string and brass sections and a small backing choir. Anne Murray's music always seems most appropriate in the winter, and a collection of holiday songs fits that bill nicely.
An enterprising and extremely well-documented record, this collection is a distinct success. I listened to it both at a properly high volume, and late in the evening at a low level, when the illusion of the brass in the distance was just as real. The opening Dvorak Fanfare looks back to earlier times. The writing for natural trumpets is designedly primitive, but the composer's allusion to the Austro-Hungarian anthem is wittily engraved in the structure, and its familiarity makes one smile.
One of the characteristics of Morton Feldman's music is the way silences are thrown into stark relief. Each silence - freighted with memory, charged with expectation - becomes a unique presence in the music more than merely an absence of it. Though his silences are measured in units of time, they also contain an intimation of infinity. The music of the "classical" tradition slows down, speeds up, layers and otherwise manipulates time. Of the other arts, only cinema plays with our temporal perception to a greater degree.
For this ECM project, John Surman (who plays soprano, baritone, clarinet, bass clarinet and piano) and conductor John Warren wrote a full set of original music for Surman's reeds, a seven-piece brass section and a rhythm section to interpret. This episodic set has its share of sound explorations but also contains swinging sections and an impressive amount of excitement. The colorful solos (mostly by Surman) and the unpredictable writing make this a highly recommended disc. (AMG)