Alexis Cole

The Greatest Gift

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Alexis Cole is a promising young jazz vocalist who sought to make a difference with her Christmas CD, which benefits World Bicycle Relief, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable transportation for disaster assistance and for poverty relief. Although this is her release, Cole doesn't play a part on every song, instead preferring to showcase many of her friends in widely different settings, not exclusively jazz., while many of the songs aren't widely known as popular Christmas carols. The boisterous opener is "Joy to the World," a breezy post-bop instrumental chart showcasing young guitarist Jessie C. Lewis. Her rich alto voice stands out in the magical arrangement of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with Don Braden adding tasty licks behind her on tenor sax. She recasts the African-American spiritual "Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow" in a traditional Indian setting, accompanied by tambura and tabla, plus soprano, bass, and percussion. Cole shines in the sparse setting of "Happiest Christmas," backed solely by pianist Ted Firth and violinist Christian Howe. Vocalist/pianist Mark Finkin's contemporary settings of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and "Away in a Manger" pretty much discard the traditional melodies, replacing them with rather forgettable themes, though his modern instrumental arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" fares better. Alexis Cole is to be commended for pushing the envelope in her Christmas-themed CD, as the holiday repertoire is long overdue to be expanded.

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