The Berlin Voices manage to combine definitive jazz touches and surprising vocal flourishes with holiday classics (in German and English) in its newest release, “About Christmas.”
The voices – in the form of soprano/alto singers Esther Kaiser and Sarah Kaiser, tenor Marc Secara and baritone Kristof Benn – together sometimes evoke 1920s-30s pre- and post-war swing America (the sax-heavy “It’s Christmas Time All Over The World”), calling to mind doo-wop groups like the Andrew Sisters. Huge props to Darmon Meader of the New York Voices, who’s all over this tune on sax and as arranger.
At other times, they take you to a seaside Latin coast with a soft, rustling bossa nova, as in “Es Kommt Ein Schiff, Geladen,” one of my fast favorites. Unbelievably, it’s an ancient carol, dating back to the 15th century, sung in German, yet completely Spanish in flavor.
A lot of the songs start off a capella, a true test of vocal prowess. Not a note is off as these singers blend their voices together, as if they were doing this all their lives. Listen to “Medley: The First Noel/A Child Is Born.” The first half of this medley for “The First Noel” goes slow, steady, solemn, and quite true. But then, the arrangement deviates into the overly maudlin, self-important, saccharine category as they break off from the program to give the intro to “A Child Is Born” a little more holy oomph. It’s the “This child, inno – cent – child, soft as a fawn, this child is born” part that just sounds inauthentic and weirdly overwrought.
Blog Critics’ David Bowling may have enjoyed the jazzy, different opening number, “Joy To The World,” but I found the excessive arranging in the chorus and the repetitiousness of “repeat the sounding joy” overdone. (Haven’t they ever heard of Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies Night?” That’show you use repetition.) The instrumentals (piano, drums, sexy horns) behind the vocals, however, give this Bible-based carol terrific freshness.
Bowling was on point with his description of “Angels We Have Heard On High,” when he wrote that it was “a good example of the counterpoint technique that many jazz instrumentalists use but rarely vocal groups.” A simple vocal approach, juxtaposed with a gentle Latiny strumming, makes this often-heard carol pop.
If you’re tired of hearing the same treatment to Christmas carols and are a diehard fan of jazz treatments, go ahead and purchase this CD. It’ll put you into a festive spirit immediately, to last the rest of the year. Find it for download on iTunesas well.