Christmas jazz albums are always a challenge because there is a relatively small repertoire of songs chosen and difficulty in finding fresh approaches to them. But this quartet that regularly records for the Origin label has risen to both tests.
Thomas Marriott, a fine trumpeter and flugelhornist, and pianist Bill Anschell make a strong front line, while bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop provide perfect backing. While the arrangements are not specifically credited to anyone (presumably they were conceived in the studio), the brooding, tense setting of "The Christmas Song" is far different from this holiday staple written by Mel Torme. Marriott's fat-sounding flugelhorn is buoyed by the rhythm section in a strutting "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Country giant Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" is a novel choice, retaining a bit of a country air in the loping arrangement that features Marriott's sauntering muted trumpet.
Another inspired selection is Alec Wilder's "Blackberry Winter," a bittersweet song (and a favorite of Marian McPartland) that is likely making its first appearance on a Christmas CD; its nostalgic theme is treated with care by the quartet's understated yet lyrical interpretation. This is a rewarding holiday release that will stand the test of time as other seasonal discs are packed away and forgotten.