Joey Altruda

Christmas in Hollywood

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Over the years, many jazz artists have ended up detouring into pop when they recorded Christmas albums. But listeners can rest assured that Christmas in Hollywood is both a Christmas album and a true jazz album. Plas Johnson, of course, could have easily made this a pop recording -- the versatile tenor saxman has certainly backed his share of non-jazz artists. Christmas in Hollywood, however, is very much a hard bop/soul-jazz recording. Joined by Red Young on organ and piano, Anthony Wilson on guitar, and Willie McNeil on drums, Johnson sees to it that Christmas favorites like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Sleigh Ride" become hard-swinging, improvisatory bop. This CD is mostly instrumental, although the soulful, bluesy vocalist Ernie Andrews is featured on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and "Merry Christmas, Baby." Most of the time, Johnson embraces the usual Christmas standards, but one track that can hardly be called a standard is Tadd Dameron's "A Bebop Carol." Recorded by trumpeter Fats Navarro (one of Clifford Brown's main influences) in the 1940s, "A Bebop Carol" is a tune that only serious bop collectors will be familiar with. Because Johnson has spent so much time backing other artists, his own catalog isn't nearly as large as it should be. So the arrival of this interesting Christmas album in late 2000 was long overdue.

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