Following the success of The Sackville All Star Christmas Record, there was a resurgence of great jazz Christmas albums being produced. After playing on that record, Jim Galloway returns with his saxophone, while Jay McShann comprises the other half of Jim & Jay. The two worked magic on this record backed by Neil Swainson and Archie Alleyne, who played bass and drums respectively. Christmas albums were out of style for jazz primarily because so many traditional carols are too structured, and their rigidity makes them ill-suited for easy jazz arrangements but these artists worked together to find some truly standout songs to record and truly make their own in a distinctly jazz tradition. This is definitely due to Jay McShann “who came to sessions armed with Christmas song books and clear ideas about which tunes should be tackled.” The album begins with a mysterioso version of ‘Silent Night’, moves thru imaginative re-arrangements of hackneyed popular songs (‘Rudolph’ and ”Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’), sensitive ballads (‘White Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’), obscure jazz tunes (‘Christmas in New Orleans’ and ‘Harlem’) and a couple of McShann’s specialties, a rhythm based romp (‘Christmas Candy’) and a reworking of traditional blues ideas (‘Christmas Baby’). Some of the more traditional songs are played as sax and piano duets which works beautifully for the way they are more structured and rigid, but save for those songs the rest of the album includes the entire quartet.
The quartet works well together and their sound is balanced and compatible. Lending not only his distinctive piano but his leadership and creative playing to this record, Jay ‘Hootie’ Mc Shann was an important figure in jazz history; pianist, singer and bandleader, his band, the Jay McShann Orchestra, was the starting point for a number of incredible musicians in its short but successful run before McShann was drafted. Jim Galloway lends his soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones to this record, Galloway is known for his saxophone, his Wee Big Band, and his work as the artistic director of the Toronto Jazz Festival for over 20 years. Neil Swainson plays bass here, and is known for his work backing a number of artists, with 5 albums he’s worked on receiving the distinction of winning Best Album from Canada’s JUNO Awards. Archie Alleyne, a Canadian jazz drummer, was deeply respected for the work he did on a number of records, and named to the Order of Canada, the second highest honor that can be bestowed in Canada, for his exceptional lifelong work as a musician. The quartet came together in 1992 to record this album.
An excellent blend of classics and popular songs, with some rare gems thrown in for good measure, at times a duo, at times a quartet, this album comes together beautifully to offer a little something truly special for everyone this Christmas.