Why does the twinkling of the ivories over sibilant cymbal splashing evoke the colors of the holiday season so aptly? Is Jazz (capital J)—in all its strange, sultry, and semi-deranged forms—the quintessential soundrop to the season which leads up to the new year?? From the sweet ember of King Cole’s “Christmas Song”, all the way to Coltrane’s burning “My Favorite Things”, we feel the Jazz, every year. Whether it’s the big band glitz of some Holiday Bublé; the rompin’ burn of Jimmy Smith’s B3 Hammond on Christmas Cookin; the lilting twang of Presley’s “Blue Christmas”; or the nostalgic skating of Vince Guarldi’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas; swing is never far from the fray this time of year. (Hell, Charlie “Bird” Parker might take the cake with a bombed-out twirl over “White Christmas” Live at the Royal Roost in NYC from 1948.)
There’s something raunchy, on-point-kitsch and universal about the cocktail piano holiday soundtracks that dominate the globe. Despite all the irony, the twilight balled “Enchanted” exists as an unearthed gem of elegant ivory work fit for the season and your next cozy get together. Penned by the sultriest of swingers, Sir George Shearing, the blissful track comes halfway through an underrated, self-titled collaborative album, George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers, recorded in Los Angeles under the direction of Orrin Keepnews for the Jazzland label back in 1961 featuring jazz guitar powerhouse Wes Montgomery and his two brothers, Monk Montgomery on upright and Buddy on the vibraphone. These are some heavy hitters from Indianapolis whose firebrand blues-swing deshevels Shearing’s classy quintet work in just the right, imperfected way. Shearing was a wunderkind of sorts: a blind pianist from England who composed the jazz schmaltz hit “Lullaby of Birdland”; appeared in part 2 of Kerouac’s On The Road, and was widely credited with inventing something called block chords, which cascade underneath melodies like a mischievous mathematical equation. The Shearing chords became a signature sound in jazz piano and on many Miles Davis records for Columbia: see the tracks “If I Were A Bell” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” in particular. (Davis infamously cut off Red Garland, the pianist from his popular quintet, during a studio introduction, whistling and ordering “gimme some block chords, Red”.)
“Enchanted” is a vibey, atmospheric composition of the highest order: clocking in at under 4 minutes, the work rolls through chord movements of starlit intrigue (in slightly odd phrases), while Montgomery’s oarlike hollowbody guitar—sounding like the grains of wood on a mid-century-modern piece of furniture—sticks almost entirely to the bittersweet melody that floats transgressed over the whole ghostly, festive affair. The composer himself dips through the chords for a spritz of bop for about 10-seconds flat, keeping in theme with “Enchanted’s” antivirtuosic, melody-first zeal, which sounds fresh sixty years in the can. | t csatari
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