The Cool Season: Origins Records Holiday Collection, Vol. 2 sounds like a label sampler, but is rather the work of one quartet. Volume 1 (12/03) was a fine effort with distinctive arrangements of some lesser-known carols paired with swinging versions of holiday standards. The one drawback of that session was the way the two were mixed, creating some incongruous juxtapositions. This session avoids that problem.
With bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop returning from the early date joined by pianist Bill Anschell and trumpeter Thomas Marriott, the quartet again does standards and more atmospheric pieces. But this time they are programmed as on an LP with the standards taking up one side, or the first four tracks, and the rest of the material the other side. The standards start again with Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here." While Jazz musicians take great liberties with even an iconic carol like "Silent Night," Guaraldi's wistful waltz is always treated with the utmost deference, always a slow waltz tempo, the melody unadorned. Marriott and Anschell get to stretch their chops here. Marriott, whether on trumpet or flugelhorn, has a warm, lyrical approach that's perfect for the material, and the pianist fancies crystalline lines shaped by a finely tuned sense of structure. On the opener he shapes his solo around a simple falling phrase that builds naturally to a quote from the theme.
These qualities are evident throughout the standard set. Then starting with "Winter Solace," the first of Johnson's two evocative originals, the mood turns more reflective, with melancholy versions of Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" and the traditional tune "Sing We Now of Christmas." In between the quartet glides through Johnson's "Skating," more full-bodied than the tune from the Charlie Brown cartoon. These skaters have hockey equipment on. The session closes with "Blackberry Winter," a seasonal tune, just not this season?it's about spring really. But that's a quibble. The Alec Wilder piece is gorgeous, and the quartet delivers a beautiful reading. Truly a ballad for all seasons.