[When Bill Carter asked me to write the “jacket” notes for his newest Presbybop Jazz release “Jazz Noel,” I knew I would be headed down a familiar path. I would happily accept the assignment, procrastinate (that is, let the invitation/assignment simmer way too long), and then in a rush of creative adrenalin write far too many words. Ah, the path was well worn, and I followed it along every little turn, and wound up with the following.

One footnote follows, by the way.]

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“When the angels sing, and all earth echoes it, we catch the dance, and we get caught up in the sound;  and the joy is given to us as a gift.”

—Bill Carter

 

While the so-called “Christmas Eve Band,” better known as the Presbybop Quintet, has been swinging the season’s joy every Christmas Eve at the Clarks Summit (PA) Presbyterian Church since 1999, the performance on this disk may have added some butterflies to the normal Yule tinsel, silver bells, and evergreens. For one thing, this concert took place several weeks before Christmas, and not in church, but a television studio. And some of us in the audience knew the vocalist had been fighting a cold.

But there’s no doubt: there certainly was “Joy to the World” that night in the high definition studio of WVIA, and that joy was the swinging marriage of Christmas mystery and merriment, of melodies from ages past and new tunes that sing of the Christmas present. The live audience received the joy and wonder of the season as a gift that night, and celebrated this “Jazz Noel” with broad smiles and rousing applause.

Composer, arranger, jazz pianist, church pastor, and Presbybop founder Bill Carter leads this Christmas Eve band of talented revelers through ten interpretations of carols and holiday classics. Among the musicians: Mike Carbone, saxophones; Jeff Stockham, trumpet and flugelhorn; Tony Marino, bass; and Marko Marcinko, percussion. And when vocalist Warren Cooper adds his voice… well, there’s no sign of that cold. His voice is rich as Christmas pudding!

The music that filled the studio that evening included echoes of the Nativity’s joy to the whole world: English carols, Afro-Cuban rhythms, Mid-eastern dances and Scottish jigs, and good old American blues.

Here’s the line-up:

1)      “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – the advent of a jazz rhythm that sets the toe-tapping tone of the evening.

2)      “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – yes, blooming, and swinging in a jazzy breeze

3)      “O Come All Ye Faithful” — a gentle waltz of invitation and adoration, with Cooper’s voice and Stockham’s trumpet both singing

4)      “Angels We Have Heard on High” – celebrating Dave Brubeck’s life-long influence on Bill Carter’s creativity. Cooper offers a syncopated noel, and Marcinko’s drums shine with starlight

5)      “As One of Us” – a Carter composition which begins pensively, with Marino and Marcinko communicating the Mystery of the incarnation of love “as one of us”

6)      That tune segues into the children’s favorite “Away in a Manger” featuring Warren Cooper’s tender interpretation of the familiar lyric, with a bit of a lilt in this lullaby

7)      “Joy to the World” – way beyond “lilt” is this global paeon of pure rejoicing. Marino’s fingers dance over the bass strings, and Stockham and Carbone add some Latin heat, and Carter’s piano swings as every heart prepares room for utter joy

8)      “Wexford Carol” – Jeff Stockham’s horn is the perfect interpreter of this traditional British carol

9)      “I Wonder as I Wander” – this is an extended showpiece featuring Mike Carbone’s soprano sax and all of Marko Marcinko’s percussive shakers, rattlers, and bells. When Bill Carter’s piano and Tony Marino’s bass bring the tune to its fullest sound, Warren Cooper adds the lyric of wondering, and with a mid-eastern flavor, one can almost imagine camels dancing toward Nazareth. (I did say almost!) Bill Carter’s arrangement has led us wanderers to the tune “He Is Born” and if “wonder” was the intention of the Presbybop musicians, we’d have to say the studio audience that evening was no less than enthralled!

10)  “Silent Night” – with the quintet’s jazz noels coming to a close, the audience joined their voices to Cooper’s (and to the choirs of the ages) to sing of the “holy infant, so tender and mild.”

As I listened that night and as I watched the final video recording of that joyous performance, I realized that the jazz musicians’ instruments surely echo the sounds of ancient biblical lutes, harps, trumpets, cymbals, and drums. Maybe there is nothing new here, except the exciting new sounds of syncopation and improvisation. Then again, as in Christmas itself, maybe everything is new! Merry Christmas, and Happy New…Everything!

[Here’s the footnote: it turns out that the “jacket” of a DVD/CD combo is too small to accommodate all that wordage. So, to see Bill Carter’s masterful edit of my notes, you’ll have to buy the product, so reasonably priced at $19.95. www.presbybop.com will get you there!]

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