Alan Chang CD review
Jazz musician Alan Chang, who is most famous for his production work on Michael Bublé recordings, puts his many musical skills into play on Cold December Night, a new holiday recording. In fact, this CD’s title track, which Chang wrote, was also recorded by Bublé on his 2011 album, Christmas. Although there are pop-classical musical elements woven throughout this project, it is by no means particularly Bublé-esque.
Instead, the majority of these mostly-familiar songs are re-imagined considerably. For example, “Frosty the Snowman” is slowed way down to a slow motion snowfall, with Rob Wilkerson thoughtfully describing the arrival of that mythical snow creature with his vocal.
Due to the addition of Wilkerson’s flute and clarinet parts, it’s a moody little piece of Christmas music. Elsewhere, the string-accompanied “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” makes one wonder if these musicians only watched the first three-quarters of the Rudolph TV special, which includes all the bad stuff before Santa realized what a luminous asset he had with the glowing-nosed reindeer.
Steven McMorran sings it so sadly the listener must wonder if he or she is at poor Rudolph’s funeral, instead.
The upbeat “Cold December Night” is an antidote for the gloomy story songs contained on this set. Trevin Goin sings this piano-driven, slightly Coldplay-descended toe-tapper with a lyric that speaks of falling in love during the Christmas season. “Silver Bells” is another joyful album moment, which finds Chang at his jazziest with some truly funky Rhodes playing.
The inclusion of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a really nice touch. It is primarily built around the lovely vocal harmonies of Jacob Rodriguez, Stephanie Morgan and Eleanor Underhill.
It also features a beautifully unusual arrangement, with the unlikely combination of pedal steel guitar, banjo and glockenspiel. It may sport significant Americana elements, yet it is nevertheless performed quite formally. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” might not be thought of as a traditional Christmas song, per se, but this fine recording makes one think that maybe it ought to be reconsidered.
This album closes with two of the quietest Christmas songs: “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” Gus Black sings “The First Noel” over an insistent acoustic guitar part, which is accompanied by swelling strings. The song is performed with tangible awe, which is how it should be done.
This was, after all, the first Christmas. Similarly, “Silent Night” relies heavily on Brian Green’s acoustic guitar work. Rob Wilkerson sings the lyric quietly and sweetly, as it is a lullaby for a small child. Wilkerson also adds a pretty alto saxophone solo to the song’s mix.
There are Christmas albums that simply scream, ‘It’s party time!’ Also, there are others that treat the holiday like a holy church service. Then there is Cold December Night, which doesn’t neatly fit into either of these aforementioned categories.
This Alan Chang offering can best be described as meditative. It’s the sort of work that stops and smells the roses, if you will. You, the listener, are left with the overriding impression that Chang didn’t want another Christmas season to fly by without leaving a lasting positive mark.
Instead, he wanted to take it all in – the sights, the sounds…even the smells. In other words, he didn’t intend to experience another forgettable cold December night. So by being overtly intentional, Alan Chang has left us with one memorably chilly winter’s evening of Christmas music.
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