Pinch Hits December 1998
By Art Menius
This time of year yields its annual crop of holiday theme releases, both new projects and perennial favorites. Among the piles of all too familiar material rendered all too unimaginatively, one can always find a few records so inspired that they put a whole new spin on your December listening habits.
A Christmas Heritage (Six Degrees/Koch KOC CD 8030) by the supergroup Heritage delivers rich listening for a winter’s afternoon. Heritage includes Alison Brown, alumna of the bands of Alison Krauss and Michelle Shocked, who has taken the 5-string banjo far into jazz territory, Americana star and former Hot Rize lead vocalist Tim O’Brien, critically acclaimed bassist Todd Phillips, pop, rock, and classical pianist Philip Aaberg, and new instrumental music pioneers, David Grisman Quintet alumni, and Psychograss members Darol Anger and Mike Marshall. They seamlessly blend jazz, bluegrass, and new acoustic elements into a cohesive sound that fits the time of year. While they present stunningly original treatments of a few chestnuts, Heritage generally mines less well known traditional pieces to make an unusually charming seasonal offering. Great, original music and vocals that happen to have a holiday season, A Christmas Heritage grows more engaging with each listening.
For even more unusual music of the season, one can turn to Brittany, the Celtic part of France, which offers Noëls Celtiques: Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany (Green Linnet GLCD 3124) by Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde. Those with narrow view of Christmas or Celtic music will undoubtedly expand their views listening to the female voices of this grand, medieval-sounding Breton church music. Like entering Duke Chapel (to use a local reference), the music focuses one upward while transporting the listener to far earlier times. Noëls Celtiques provides an enchanting, refreshing experience that also transcends the limits of holiday music.