14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A phenomenal band having a great time,
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This review is from: Jingle All the Way (Audio CD)
The Flecktones have always been known for incredible instrumental abilities and challenging arrangements. By recording a holiday collection, they have made their music more accessible without sacrificing technique. This is also an incredibly diverse collection: I find that there are songs I can't stop listening to, some I enjoy greatly, and some that are fine (as well as one that is terrible--I can tolerate Tuvan throat singing as a texture, not as the primary instrument as it is on the Jingle Bells reprise).
"Jingle Bells" has quite a bit of throat singing, but the chromatic bass line is what really makes this different and interesting. Similarly, "Silent Night" has enough alternate chords and a driving rhythm to make a well-known carol new and unusual. "Sleigh Ride" is the first song that I find incredible--Bela starts it with a common opening banjo-lick (think "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"), that tears into a series of single-line runs that are astonishing in their fluidity. Jeff matches this on the sax later in the song, all of which is propelled by Vic and Futureman's astonishing groove. Vic's solo includes a quote from "The Wizard of Oz," and during the instrumental breakdown he begins a "Rudolph" quote that the rest of the band picks up on. Astonishing musicianship; any question that these guys love playing together?
The next song is a stunningly gorgeous solo bass rendition of "The Christmas Song." Vic shows the full potential of the bass as a solo instrument with high chords over a resonating low tone that is full and beautiful. "12 Days" is another favorite, with the band tackling a different meter and key with each day. How they stay together through 12 key and tempo changes at the end is astonishing to hear (props to special guests Andy Statman and Edgar Meyer, here and on other songs). The fact that this is bookended with a Bach oratorio demonstrates the range of these musicians: classical banjo (think "Perpetual Motion") with a sax counterpoint, quarter-notes on the bass driving it along; yes, it's a classical piece, but a fully modern arrangement.
The Peanuts songs are next; from the other reviews, these are clearly favorites, though I found little unusual about the arrangements, perhaps because they were jazz pieces to begin with. The Jingle Bells reprise, as I mentioned, is the one song I never listen to. The Hanukkah Waltz is good, Sugar Plum fairies has some astonishing banjo runs which are then duplicated on bass. "What Child is This" is my absolute favorite: more Tuvan throat singing, but it perfectly fits the mood and feel of Dyngyldai: this song has the heaviest groove I've heard in a long time, and when it takes off the power is overwhelming.
"O Come" is a nice, slow mandolin/string bass duet that is unremarkable. The medley is interesting, then the band has a blast with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Vic and Futureman start the groove, everyone else joins in, you hear the count-off, then there is a fantastic definition of the melody, with all the instruments trading off single notes. I first heard this idea on the "Strength in Numbers" CD, and am still always amazed when it happens. This is the band having their last blast.
"River" is solo Bela, playing piano and banjo simultaneously. The fact that it is simultaneous is an unnecessary gimmick: the arrangement is beautiful and perfect.
My point in this review: the musicianship is incredible and the songs are varied. Chances are you'll find something you love, even if you don't love the entire collection.