Trumpeter/flugelhorner Nathan Eklund organized the recording sessions that produced “Crafty Christmas” (OA2 Records OA2 22096) as a holiday gift to his parents; I’m pleased that he elected to grant the project mainstream distribution.
Eklund leads a quartet — joined by Oscar Perez, Fender Rhodes and piano; Tom DiCarlo, bass; and Shawn Baltazor, drums — in a sweet collection of straight-ahead, mostly gentle arrangements. These nine tracks run long, granting plenty of opportunities for improv; several open with Eklund’s soulful lead on horn, followed by bass and keyboard solos.
Eklund’s horn work is particularly sweet, almost contemplative, on expressive readings of “Silent Night” and “Christmas Time Is Here,” both of which also afford Perez nice solos on Fender Rhodes. The musical dynamic switches a bit for “Greensleeves,” which finds Eklund on flugelhorn and Perez on piano; the result is tender, almost melancholy at times.
The moody, slightly mysterious arrangement of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” opens with a gorgeous bass solo from DiCarlo, but things get a bit stratospheric when Eklund’s horn turns uncharacteristically squawky; “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” despite guest singer Kevin-Anthony’s gentle vocal, also is a trifle overwrought. But these are minor quibbles; the overall package is tasty and tight, reflecting the sort of smooth melodic bond that results when four well-rehearsed musicians get together.