Album Remarks & Appraisals:
MAXJAZZ presents a vocal and instrumental compilation of holiday favorites.
Personnel: Christine Hitt (vocals, piano); Mary Stallings, Phillip Manuel, René Marie, Carla Cook (vocals); Cyrus Chestnut (piano, organ); Mulgrew Miller, Bruce Barth (piano); James Genus (electric bass); Gerald Cleaver, Adonis Rose, Billy Kilson (drums).
Audio Mixer: Katsuhiko Naito.
Liner Note Authors: Christine Hitt; Mary Stallings; Phillip Manuel; René Marie; Carla Cook.
Recording information: Clayton Studios, St. Louis, MO; Sound On Sound, NY.
Photographer: Jimmy Katz.
Max Jazz Holiday is a collection of Christmas songs primarily featuring the vocalists from the label's roster. Rene Marie's sensual take of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" and warmly swinging "Winter Wonderland" immediately stand out (supported by the terrific accompaniment of pianist Mulgrew Miller's trio), as do the bright performances by LaVerne Butler of an upbeat "Sleigh Ride" and a lovely version of "The Christmas Song." Veteran singer Mary Stallings still has lots to offer with her relaxed "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and a sassy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Philip Manuel, the only male voice on the CD, is slightly reminiscent of Johnny Mathis on his two tracks. Christine Hitt opts for less familiar fare with "We'll Dress This House" and accompanying herself on piano on the tedious "Some Children See Him"; far more interesting is the jaunty take of the old reliable "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Carla Cook's lush treatment of "Silent Night" showcases her voice in a better light than the badly overproduced opening track ("Do You Hear What I Hear?") which is plagued not only by a dull funk arrangement, but excessive overdubs of additional vocals by the singer. Pianist Bruce Barth, who anchors the rhythm section backing Stallings, Butler, and Hitt, also has two instrumental tracks for his superb trio, including a playful boppish "O Christmas Tree" and an easygoing "Greensleeves." This is a very enjoyable Christmas CD that should stand the test of time rather well. ~ Ken Dryden