Continuing to extol the joys of the festive season, Ultimate Christmas is the fourth seasonal album from California smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz in his accomplished 21-year solo career. Longtime fans will probably already own at least one, or in some cases, even three, copies of the majority of material on offer, as other than the brief instrumentals that bookend its 18 tracks ("Welcoming Thee Season," "Welcoming the New Year"), every single number has previously appeared on either 1997's December Makes Me Feel This Way, 2001's A Smooth Jazz Christmas, or 2007's Memories of a Winter's Night. While this compilation, therefore, remains largely inessential for the audiences who flock to his annual Smooth Jazz Christmas tours, it's a perfectly serviceable introduction to his interpretive talents for those wanting an overview of his yuletide-themed output. Most of the classic Christmas standards you'd expect to hear make an appearance, from hymns including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "O Tannenbaum," to traditional favorites like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song," to more contemporary tunes such as an impassioned bluesy rendition of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas" (featuring guest vocals by American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke) and the album's sole original composition, the charming Parisian folk of "Eight Candles (A Song for Hanukkah)." The tasteful smooth jazz arrangements, on the whole, offer few surprises, but there are occasions when Koz and his impressive guest list of collaborators (including pianist David Benoit, guitarist Peter White, and trumpeter Rick Braun) bring something new to the table, such as the chilled R&B slow-jam treatment afforded to "White Christmas," the subtle flamenco guitars and bossa nova beats of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," and the campfire acoustics of "Sleigh Ride," while the highlight appears courtesy of "Silent Night," which bravely waits two minutes before its sparse fingerpicking guitar hooks are joined by Koz and the gorgeously soulful tones of singer/songwriter Brenda Russell. The fact that so much of Ultimate Christmas is already available limits its appeal, but it's still a charming body of work that establishes Koz's reputation as the master of festive smooth jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien