REVIEW: Peter White, Rick Braun, Mindi Abair – Peter White Christmas

Traditional Christmas music is sometimes a little difficult to find these days. There are plenty of holiday albums around because most of the artists have a ready-made customer base made up of their fans, and it makes economic sense to tap into that market. However, those artists sometimes range a little far and wide in their interpretation of traditional holiday songs, and on top of that they often throw in a bunch of songs that strain the definition of “holiday”.

On the other hand, a lot of people enjoy the traditional songs played more or less straight, so it’s a difficult balancing act for the musician, but one that is well-handled by Peter White and his friends on a new album on the Artizen label , Peter White Christmas.

White is the outstanding British acoustic guitarist who has appeared near the top of contemporary jazz album charts for years. He’s joined here by a couple of other well-known and successful artists, Rick Braun on trumpet/flugelhorn, and Mindi Abair, who’s a talented vocalist in addition to her strong sax play.

The three musicians are the stars of this year’s Peter White Christmas Tour, a regular show that has packed in appreciative crowds for years. Although the tour doesn’t always generate an album, it has done so this year, a move that will probably please many fans.

Although there are a few surprises, the album is mostly a pleasing mix of traditional holiday songs conventionally performed, although all the artists have opportunities to fly a little on their instruments. And even though there are some nice vocals mixed throughout, the instrumentality is what drives this album.

Some of the less-traditional pieces include “I Can’t Wait For Christmas,” a softly-playful tune written by Abair, who supplements her sax with one of the better vocals, and “Jingle Jangle Blues,” composed by Rick Braun and featuring his muted trumpet play. Both songs were nice listens for those who enjoy something a little different in their holiday music.

For the traditionalists, (which includes me) many of the songs on the album will strike exactly the right note — very recognizable and familiar, but with touches of individuality from the artists. My favorites were probably “White Christmas,” with Braun’s horn work especially noteworthy, and some breathtaking guitar play from White on “Silent Night,” a piece that seems deceptively simple until it casts its spell.

And finally, I have to mention the outrageously funky medley, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” As odd as that combination of tunes might sound, it works like a charm – or maybe I should say like a surprise Christmas present – providing a good time and a sense of the joy that must have been felt by the performers while recording the piece. Very nice.

1. The Little Drummer Boy
2. The Christmas Song
3. I Can’t Wait For Christmas
4. Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)
5. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
6. River
7. Jingle Jangle Blues
8. Silent Night
9. The Best Part Of Christmas
10. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
11. Happy Christmas/O Holy Night
12. White Christmas

(Clips available at Amazon listing or here.)

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