Saturday, 10 December 2016

Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

"Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages"

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff - as evidenced halfway into opening track 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like 'The First Noel' and 'The Christmas Song' with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in 'My Favourite Things' keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters' 'Merry Christmas Darling' is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson's new festive standard 'Winter Song' blooms gorgeously under the treatment. 


Also taking a jazz-influenced approach to Christmas is Megan Hilty on A Merry Little Christmas. And hugely successful it is too, from the chirpy swing of opening one-two 'Jingle Bells' and 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year / Skating' to Joni Mitchell's 'River', the live jazz quartet accompaniment brings a real authenticity and integrity to the record. Broadway is well represented with achingly lovely versions of White Christmas' 'Count Your Blessings' and the gorgeous 'A Place Called Home' from Alan Menken's A Christmas Carol sitting alongside the delicate 'Bless Us All' from the Muppets' version of the same story, making for another recommended holiday collection.

Closer to home, British composing duo Rob Eyles and Robert Gould have released a Christmas single entitled 'The Image of a Child' with the guys at Auburn Jam Music in aid of Cancer Research UK. Featuring the vocal talents of Sabrina Aloueche, Adam Bayjou, Kieran Brown, Rob Houchen, Carolyn Maitland, Kayleigh McKnight, Michael Rees and Emily Tierney, plus an ensemble of Guildford School Of Acting students, the track feels like a cousin to the likes of 'Do They Know It's Christmas' as its a stirring choral number with reflective lyrics - well worth the download.

And rounding off this collection of potential stocking fillers (if you can stuff a stocking with a download that is...) is the DVD release of All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride, which premiered on BBC4 last Christmas. Though ostensibly sounding like ideal fodder for enemies of the Beeb in being a wordless, presenter-less 2 hours of a sleigh ride involving foreigners, it's actually something much more thoughtful and contemplative than you might imagine. Filmed 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian region of Karasjok, it follows the path of an ancient postal route used by the Sami people, indigenous to northern Scandinavia, for whom reindeer herding is still a way of life. It is beautifully shot, revealing snow-covered scenery that barely seems real in the winter sunshine and through information-filled captions, giving insight into the traditions of this area and also the realities of living here. Hypnotically compelling and unexpectedly effective.


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