Various Artists

A Jazz Piano Christmas

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In December 1991, National Public Radio began airing an annual Christmas special called A Jazz Piano Christmas, which obviously consisted of a dozen or solo piano solos by a wide swath of pianists, all of whom were recorded specifically for the program. By 2000, NPR had quite a stockpile of individual tracks, and selected 17 of them for this holiday compilation. It was sold directly through the network and likely offered as a membership premium by some of their member stations. There's a mix of centuries-old carols, 20th century gems, and even a fine performance by Michel Camilo of José Feliciano's normally tiresome "Feliz Navidad." What's particularly fun about this CD is trying to identify each artist without looking at the booklet. Dick Hyman's striding "Deck the Halls," complete with references to Fats Waller, is pretty easy. But Mulgrew Miller's dreamy "Away in a Manger" may surprise even his longtime fans. Jacky Terrason has a lot of fun with "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer," hand-muting some of the strings during the introduction, then switching to a Thelonious Monk-flavored attack. Carla Bley gives "Jingle Bells" a reggae rhythm, while Cyrus Chestnut's lively rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful" will turn a few heads. This delightful CD will age like fine wine as jazz fans return to it each Christmas season.

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