It’s that time of year for me, time to evaluate all these holiday jazz albums that have made their way to me over the past few weeks. Year after year I tell myself that I’m not going to do it anymore, and [insert obligatory reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas here], so there was a slim possibility that 2021 was going to be the first of many years where I didn’t feel compelled to talk about holiday music. Then Merry & Bright from the Jeff Hamilton Trio arrived.
Dammit, Jeff Hamilton. Now I gotta do a holiday jazz thing.
I’ll say it right up front: when people ask me to play some holiday music on my awesome hi-fi, I’ll gladly play Merry & Bright. [Insert another obligatory reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas here.] There’s a simple reason for this, and it has something to do with holiday jazz being Christmas music with a jazzy feel, rather than straight interpretations of some of those melodies, which can be quite lovely. That’s what drummer Jeff Hamilton has accomplished, along with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Jon Hamar, arrangements that are pure jazz without all the annoying sleigh bells and children’s choirs.
The Jeff Hamilton Trio is so straightforward in its approach, in fact, that I didn’t immediately recognize them, while other tunes (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “O Tannenbaum”) come flying out of the gate and demand that you pay attention to this version, which will now be your favorite version of this holiday tune.
I’ll bet there are plenty of other holiday jazz albums out there that do the same thing, but I’m familiar with Jeff Hamilton and his trio, and they’ve been consistently excellent over the last few years. If you have to suffer through another batch of “jazzy” holiday music, this is the perfect, endlessly classy antidote.