Is it still possible to do a solo piano Christmas album that is truly different without being too “out there”? In Becky Archibald’s hands, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” I’m always a little self-conscious about driving around with my sunroof open and a Christmas CD blasting away in mid-July, but I don’t think anyone noticed I was playing Christmas music in the middle of a heat wave! The melodies are intact, but Archibald has given these familiar songs such a personalized treatment, that this is a CD you can actually listen to any time of year. Staunch traditionalists may be a little taken aback, but, for something a little different, this is a great choice. Archibald incorporates jazz chords and rhythms, but this isn’t really a jazz album. There are many influences going on, making this a difficult CD to categorize - a very good thing, I think!
The CD opens with a short, but completely delightful arrangement of “Jingle Bells.” This is definitely a jazz styling that goes “laughing all the way.” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is given a bluesy treatment that maintains the dark and haunting quality of the song and tells of hope in the midst of troubles. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” scared Archibald as a child, and she wanted to incorporate some of that into the song. It begins with a very unusual prelude that is rhythmic and mysterious and melts into the actual song itself, which is begins rather traditionally with lots of sparkle and becomes more improvised - really an interesting and effective arrangement! “Silent Night” is kind of a quiet, meditative jazz waltz - very elegant and soothing. “French Carol (Il est ne, le divin Enfant)” takes on a theme and variations form, with each verse played in a different style. “What Child Is This?” keeps it simple and soulful, with the melody played in the bass clef and the treble providing a lovely series of running notes to enhance the beauty of the melody. “We Three Kings” is one of the more unusual arrangements, both classical and jazz in approach, with a fluid rhythm and some fascinating harmonic changes. Dark and mysterious, this is a great arrangement! I also really like “I Wonder As I Wander,” which was inspired by a cello/guitar arrangement of a Bartok piece. The melody is kept simple and straightforward with some very effective embellishments. My favorite is “Happy Holiday Rag,” which is a medley of “Happy Holiday,” “Up On the Housetop,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” This joyous little peace all but dances out of the CD player, closing the CD with a great big grin and a hearty “ho ho ho.”
I have been a fan of Becky Archibald’s original music for several years, and this Christmas CD is a wonderful reflection of her creativity and musical sensibility. The Christmas One
is available from beckyarchibald.com
, cdbaby.com, and amazon.com. Recommended!