"This is so cool I can barely find the words. Manhattan Holiday is the Christmas release from a band that, when it says it's brass, means it. There's nothing BUT brass here everywhere you look: no bass, no guitar, no drums, not even a sax (which many mistake as brass—it ain't, Jeeter, it's a woodwind), just trumpets (2), trombones (2), and horns (2), and the songs are often irreverently but lovingly arranged to take full advantage of everything to hand. The Manhattan Brass prides itself on breaking down barriers and they surely do, putting a richly informed spin on every bar and measure. If I tell you that Carla Bley and Jack Walrath split the arranging chores between them, then you start to get an idea of just how far-flung things can get.
The band had been around quite a while, well regarded and highly talented, but, in 2004, got an extra shot in the arm as luminary Lew Soloff and viruoso David Taylor joined. Used to interpreting classical, modern classical, avant-garde, free jazz, and other musics, the two new guys brought in even more ideas, to the point that they're basically a horn version of the Kronos Quartet, and, in any just context, would be carried by the ECM label…had that leonine outfit not gotten screwed when joining the pelikan-hedz in the Universal distribution system and then begun dwindling. I mean, combos like the Art Ensemble, Either-Orchestra, or any of a number of outside ensembles have nothing on Manhattan Brass.
The question, then, is this really Christmas music? Oh hell no!…even though it is. It's actually just as much satirical (the swozzled It Came upon a Midnight Clear, Jingle Bells) as reverent (The Christmas Song, etc.) as freak-out (Funky Stuffing) as avant-garde (many places) as jazz (Lil Drummer Dude) as purely adventurous. In terms of a holiday feast, the CD's soup to nuts, embracing just about everything, even baroque and classical strains. And if you're thinking "Man, these poor bastards must've burned synapses coming up with all this!", well, they took four years assembling the disc, so no really damaging decortication took place as far as I can tell…but it possibly could occur on your end of the deal, so I suggest having happy holiday hard cider to hand and imbibing liberally. What could it hurt?
The band didn't attribute writing credits, so I ain't neither. It is, after all, the celebratory end of the year, and my head's firmly in the wassail bowl too. So there." - M.S. Tucker, FAME Review
"There is just no better way to jump into the holiday mood than to listen to this impeccably polished brass ensemble"
5-Stars - Grady Harp, Amazon.com Top 50/Hall of Fame
"a holiday offering with a difference"
5-Stars - John Henry, Audiophile Audition
Lew was doing a big band tour with long-time friend and colleague Carla Bley. “She had two or three of the charts and asked some of us to play them for her. I loved them and later asked if we could use them to record and she said yes.” We needed more material to fill a CD; something not to be taken lightly, as there are so many holiday offerings. If we did a holiday recording, it’d need to be outstanding...special; we’d want it to be something like this.
To fill out the recording Dave introduced us to Jack Walrath. Jack had written many arrangements for Dave and, as with Carla, knew both Dave & Lew for years. Jack is a trumpeter and band leader who knows how to give things room to breathe...perfect for us! Jack came in with two, then ultimately five really creative and interesting charts; some very new twists on the classics and a few amazing, but more obscure “new” classics. We had found the compliment to Carla’s charts and after 5 years, we are happy to bring you our first holiday collection. It will not be the last (some of the next one’s already been recorded!)
The styles are all over the map...Christmas in New York is never monocultural - reggae, classical, gospel, straight ahead jazz, calypso, Italian waltz, classic ballads, etc. Composers and nods to composers include Thelonious Monk, Handel, Respighi, Mel Torme, Brubeck and more. Recorded over 4 years (and two hornists!) from 2008-11, we loosely see this as our version/snapshot of NYC in and around the holidays. Season’s Greetings from Manhattan Brass!