One of the most prolific indie labels of recent years, Origin Records has helped raise awareness of the considerable jazz talents in the Northwest. The basis of their success is readily apparent on this collection of holiday standards and original compositions from a quartet of Seattle-area jazzers lead by rising trumpet star Thomas Marriott. Winner of the 1999 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition, Marriott joined the Maynard Ferguson Big Band and relocated to New York for a few years before returning to his native Seattle where he continues to perform and record to high acclaim. He's joined here by pianist Bill Anschell (most notably associated with Nnenna Freelon and the American Composers Forum), bassist Jeff Johnson (Jessica Williams and Hal Galper), and drummer and Origin Records founder John Bishop.
The elegant success of The Cool Season, Volume Two will encourage you to seek out Volume One. Among the nine tracks, the quartet presents traditional and standard holiday melodies as well as two originals from Jeff Johnson and covers of Willie Nelson and Alec Wilder. On the opening modern classic, "Christmas Time Is Here" (Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson), Marriott's wistful flugelhorn makes you long for the holidays of your childhood. With a second chorus more twisty and bright, Anschell bounces his chords under the horn, picking apart the tune himself on the third chorus as Bishop rumbles on the toms and tingles the cymbals, while Johnson keeps up a sprightly pace. "The Christmas Song" features a wonderfully whiney flugelhorn, a sinewy reworking of the classic with some deeply scraping bass tones and mallets that give the underlying pulse an almost primal quality; Anschell provides a thickly harmonized solo. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" becomes a bop standard with Marriott's trumpet moving from the traditional melody to a curvy abstraction, exploding each chord into a shower of tinsel. On "Winter Wonderland," Anschell provides an inventive countermelody in tandem with Marriott's horn, which at first delivers a straightforward interpretation before dismantling the harmonies in a boppish remake.
Jeff Johnson's "Winter Solace" is soothing without cloying, featuring gentle, exquisitely fashioned piano work with faint yet definitive bass tones. His "Skating" also provides an opportunity for the bassist to shine. An interesting addition, Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" is highlighted by muted trumpet, bass and drums, with the piano joining in with a low-register counterpoint. Not surprisingly, this track has a slightly bluegrassy tone. Johnson sustains that country flavor in his deep-popping solo.
The traditional "Sing We Now of Christmas" starts with a celestial passage from Anschell that evolves into a brief, elegantly minimalist duet with Marriott. Johnson's dark undertone with bowed bass and faint mallets from Bishop add to the mystery. At a very slow pace, Marriott carries out the them while Anschell adds a separate, compatible layer of wonder. Alec Wilder's "Blackberry Winter" is an exquisitely rendered finale, Marriott's muted trumpet providing a nostalgic tone with elegant support from all.
I eagerly await Volume Three.