Instant Replay: 044
This month, a mix of music just as eclectic as holiday guests, yet each one loved in its own way.
Andrea Battistoni, Tokyo Philharmonic — Akira Ifukuba: Sinfonia Tapkaara
When Akira Ifukube was 14, he heard a radio broadcast of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and immediately decided he would be a composer. His Sinfonia Tapkaara is heavily influenced by the music of the indigenous Ainu people he grew up with on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. And you might also hear hints of Ifukube's main claim to fame: scoring the Godzilla franchise and other classic Japanese monster movies.
Pink Martini, Ari Shapiro — Ocho Kandelikas
Anything by Pink Martini is tops in my book. Their whole holiday album is something special — a few American "classics" but plenty of other world favorites sprinkled through. Fun fact: for those NPR fans out there, Ari Shapiro is a frequent guest vocalist on Pink Martini's tours and albums!
Count Basie Orchestra — Little Drummer Boy
Before I heard this version, “Little Drummer Boy” was my least favorite Christmas tune. Usually, the repetitive melody is underlined by a super-slow tempo and little to no variation from beginning to end. Not so with the Count Basie Orchestra: they make the Drummer Boy swing. Come for the drum solo; stay for the holiday joy.
Magdalena Kožená and friends — Jakub Jan Ryba: Ceska Mse Vanocni: Gloria
Across the country, this month is filled with performances of Handel’s Messiah, and in a lot of Europe, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is the go-to celebratory heavy-weight. But in the Czech Republic, a composer almost unknown in this part of the world is behind that country’s traditional concert music for the season. Jakub Jan Ryba wrote his Czech Christmas Mass in 1796. And while its sound world owes a lot to Haydn and Mozart, there’s a charming and even rustic directness in its melodies and textures. It’s been recorded a number of times, but this 1998 release features the remarkable Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená when her career was just beginning to take off.
The Ventures — Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Sometimes you just have to take a break from the traditional holiday hits, and get your surf-rock on. The Ventures, the '60s surf-rock instrumentalists perhaps most famous for the original Hawaii Five-O theme, recorded a fantastic Christmas album that mixes popular rock hits of the early '60s with fun holiday songs you know and love. If you ever wanted to hear Ray Charles' "What I'd Say" mixed with "Jingle Bells," or The Champs' "Tequila" mashed up with "Frosty the Snowman," then this is your new favorite holiday treat.
Vince Guaraldi Trio — Christmas Time is Here
Vince Guaraldi was a genius. When the creative team putting together the beloved Christmas holiday TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, asked him to join the team, he fought hard for a jazz-inspired score. Guaraldi believed that children (and adults) would respond favorably to jazz, rather than the expected holiday fa-la-las. He was right. Two seconds into this CD and I'm a little kid again, loving Charlie Brown's gang and the music to which they move. True story: I actually have 3 copies — one for my car, one for the kitchen, and one next to the bed.
Dr. Saxlove — Angel Eyes (Soft Jazz Version)
My roommates will attest that I blast holiday music year-round in anticipation of the season. But, despite being an avid Christmas lover, I know it’s crucial to take time for oneself to relax during the hustle of the season. Therefore, I’ve been on a smooth jazz kick recently. Here’s an exceptionally luscious one from Dr. Saxlove.
Hayley-Thompson King — All the Boys Love You
Hayley Thompson-King is a classically trained singer whose timeless voice is perfect for her driving songs and her band’s lo-fi, old-school sound profile. I love the Debbie Harry vibe in this fun track. Can’t we all relate to that one girl from high school?
Listen to the December playlist: