Something New This Christmas
SOMETHING NEW THIS CHRISTMAS The title of this Christmas CD by Gene Cook gives a pretty good indication of what you'll find within; there are three brand-new songs, penned by pianist/composer/arranger Ben Di Tosti with lyrics by either Rosemary Watson or Diane English. This gives a special luster to what is anyway a charming set of seasonal songs. Gene has made many fans since he started singing, and he added to his following with his first recording, Late-Blooming Jazzman, released in 2003. Here he is in the same superb company, which by now, of course, is muy compatible. Gene himself is very proud of this effort, saying: 'I've always wanted to do a Christmas album, something I could leave for my children and grandchildren.' He can be justifiably proud, as each of these 12 tunes is carefully and lovingly crafted, the singer's voice being clear and resonant. He confesses that his favorites are 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, 'The Christmas Waltz, and 'Silent Night.' He is also pleased with the way the three originals turned out, and is especially fond of 'All the Joy of Christmas,' that has a very thoughtful lyric by Diane English, and Gene's interpretation is right on target. Of the other two Di Tosti compositions, the most unusual and concomitant with the season it portrays is 'Let's Keep The Christ in Christmas.' Here we are reintroduced to Janelle Sadler (who first appears on 'Let It Snow'). Their voices blend beautifully and, of course, the composer's playing is magnificent -- both in his role as accompanist and in a solo workout. In the third original, 'It's Christmas Time, Here We Go Again,' Gene sounds as if he might have written this himself, so fully does he bring out the intent of the song. One might notice here that Gene's voice, sounding delightfully youthful, somewhat belies his seniority. One of my personal favorites is 'Christmas Time Is Here,' that has Di Tosti playfully echoing Gene's marvelously melodious rendition of this old classic. His solo is almost worth the price of the CD on it's own! He and Gene are more than ably helped by Jack Bruce on bass and Dick Weller on drums, so that a seamless whole cloth is the result. It's quite hard to be original when delivering tried-and-true seasonal tunes; however, you'll be impressed at Gene and Janelle's rendering of 'Let It Snow.' This is one of the few up tempo numbers herein, giving a hearty, swinging feel to everything. Gene noted that 'everyone involved thought our voices were great together. But don't take their word for it -- judge for yourself. My verdict is in the affirmative. Gene thought that Ben's arrangement of 'White Christmas' was 'a gas,' presented as an up tempo waltz. This is one of the tunes, too, that includes a verse (one that I'd never heard before), which sets up the wintry mood. The trio really stretches out in a jazzy way, fully enlivening this truly ancient Irving Berlin classic. Yet another Christmas perennial is Mel Torme's 'The Christmas Song,' and, one might ask, who can top Torme? Well, Torme didn't have Di Tosti -- and, as a consequence, Gene is duly inspired, breathing new life into this already lovely song. Gene is even able to infuse a sense of newness into another 'old chestnut,' the happy-ever-after Jingle 'Bells.' He has fun with it, offering a truly personalized version that cooks. 'The Christmas Waltz,' written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, was probably the first of it's genre to be scored in 3/4 time. Gene said he really likes the treatment of this one, 'making the first part ad-lib,' he explains; 'it's very intimate.' Here again, the voice and piano are so intricately intertwined, they almost become as one -- an attribute these two musicians have frequently displayed. An appropriate choice for inclusion in this warmly portrayed dedication to one of the world's most sacred holidays, 'Silent Night,' is a perfect example of Gene's respect for a well-written song. He'd always promised himself to record this sometime, and he's most pleased with the way it came out. He sings it in a simple, unadorned and reverent manner. Everyone involved in this project deserves kudos for their particular contribution. Dick Weller, on every single track, is as steady as a metronome, always subtly there, sometimes striking out on his own for a noteworthy effect. Jack Bruce is probably one of the finest bass players on the Los Angeles scene today, and he too gives great support throughout. Ben Di Tosti, who also acted as co-producer, had these words to say: 'Gene asked me for assistance with a Christmas CD, meant specifically for his family and friends. We started gathering material. Since I've always loved the Charlie Brown song, 'Christmas Time Is Here,' (composed by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson), I suggested a version in 5/4 time, which I feel creates a rather poignant mood.' People today often wonder -- where are all the pretty new songs? Di Tosti answered that question: 'Well, I had several 'on the shelf', awaiting an opportunity to be heard. I had recently written a song with lyricist Rosemary Watson for the Pat Longo CD Extreme Heat, and I asked her if she would try writing a lyric for a tune I'd had around for a while -- and that became 'Let's Keep The Christ In Christmas.' We also collaborated on 'It's Christmas Time, Here We Go Again,' which describes some of the trials and tribulations that are also a part of the season.' It's worth noting that Di Tosti played a Yamaha 9 ft. Piano at Entourage Studios, where this CD was recorded. This instrument is thoroughly maintained, he says, the way all fine pianos should be. He added: 'My fondest wish is that Entourage's intelligent and sympathetic attitude would take root among the club and hotel managers of the world. Then we musicians could more happily make music with a well-tuned instrument and listeners could experience the same high-quality performance as they already get from our CDs.' Ben always enjoys working with Gene, 'because he listens and is willing to try any suggestions I might offer. That became apparent when we worked together on his first CD, and it really adds to the pleasure of working with him.' In a review of Cook's earlier CD, writer Ferdinand Maylin said in jazznow.com (June 2003): 'This is his first CD and he makes it a pleasant, friendly experience, drawing us into a gentle intimacy.' And now the tradition continues. -- Frankie Nemko, Jazz Now; Jazz Times; Down Beat; Music Connection.