I've saved on of the best [discs] for last, although not intentionally; Origin Records' "The Cool Season" (Origin82494) arrived literally as this column was being prepped for layout. It's a tasty collection from an extremely tight quartet - Thomas Marriott, trumpet and flugelhorn; Bill Anschell, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass; and John Bishop, durms- that thinks and plays as one.
These are fairly lengthy tracks that for the most part are handled in traditional fashion: an opening hint of the familiar melody line, followed by improvisational solos or duets, concluding with a final verse from the melody. It's all lovely and extremely tasty.
The quartet gained my attention immediately, with an album-opening cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" that emphasizes this new standard's wistful, innocent qualities. Marriott delivers a lovely melody line, and then trades riffs with Anschell's keyboard counterpoint.
The mood turns tropical with a delightfully mysterious reading of "The Christmas Song," with Bishop laying down an exotic beat that'd be right at home in a tiki bar. Anschell enhances the atmosphere with some free form piano work: a bit unusual, but not unpleasantly so.
Johnson lays down the beat and shows his stuff as "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" opens, and goes to town when the mid-tempo intro turns into a nifty toe-tapper. He also contributes the album's two original compositions:
"Winter Solace," a snuggly composition that gives Marriott the lead; and "Skating," a more traditional quartet number that focuses on Johnson's bass.
(I might point out that "Skating" still remains a title best associated with another familiar Guaraldi composition; I blinked upon hearing Johnson's track for the first time, having seen only the title and not initially noted its author.)
Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" gets a playfully droll reading, thanks to Marriott's muted trumpet work; he then turns the atmosphere mysterious for a particularly ethereal reading of the traditional "Sing We Now of Christmas." You'll easily sense the song's cathedral-like origins.
The album concludes softly, with a simply beautiful version of "Blackberry Winter," a track with which I was unfamiliar. It's the perfect reflection of the album's title, and also a nice way to bring this column to a close: plenty wintry, and plenty cool.