By my count, Chanticleer has released six Christmas albums and a DVD. Of them, my favorite is probably “Christmas with Chanticleer” featuring Dawn Upshaw. Today, however, I want to talk about their 2007 album “Let it Snow”.
Over the years, Chanticleer has dabbled in vocal jazz – most memorably in their commissioned album of jazz standards, “Lost in the Stars”. Like that album, “Let it Snow” features commissions from two of the greatest jazz vocal arrangers, now both gone – Gene Puerling and Clare Fischer. Puerling died just a few months after this CD was released, so his contributions of “The Christmas Song” and “Silent Night” may be some of the last pieces he wrote.
Chanticleer approaches jazz with sensitivity, even if they don’t always achieve true vernacular. They clearly have great respect for the music and especially for these brilliant arrangers.
Puerling’s “Silent Night” is a re-interpretation of the classic version he wrote for The Singers Unlimited. And though it makes me feel like a bad disciple to say, I actually prefer the Chanticleer version. They perfectly balance his rich textures so you can hear every counter line, every part of every chord.
“The Christmas Song,” also arranged by Puerling, is the third and final version of the song he wrote (other versions were for Manhattan Transfer and for publication). To my knowledge, this is the only song he ever arranged three separate times.
Having written for Chanticleer several times by now, Puerling knows their strengths and weaknesses. He wrote something that fits them so well. They interpret it beautifully. Listen to the unexpected blue note around 1:15 and the wildly reharmonized melody starting around 3:10.
Finally, I draw your attention to the opening track. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” was commissioned by Chanticleer from the mad genius of jazz arranging, Clare Fischer. He was known to push the envelope of what could be done in every way you can imagine, and this is no exception.
Indeed, my family is mixed on whether this piece works. I personally enjoy the challenge it makes to my ears on every listen. From the tessitura to the harmonic language to the groove and reharmonized unison melody, it will not stand for anything less than full attention. That Chanticleer chose to open the record with it tells you a lot about their overall concept.
This album doesn’t call out to be put on in the background during a Christmas party or while your kids open presents on Christmas morning. But when you’re ready to hear fabulous, intelligent music, interpreted with virtuosity and sensitivity, I urge you to check this recording out. I can’t believe it’s already been part of my Christmas tradition for the better part of a decade!