This feels a little odd — writing a review of sax icon Boney James’ new album, Christmas Present, on Halloween. But I think we all know that waiting until later in the year to think about Christmas is no longer how things are done. Besides that, I don’t think Boney did a Halloween album. (Although if he had, I guess I would have been reviewing it back around Independence Day.)
However, I do think that I need to resist using cheesy Halloween-related descriptions. That’s why I won’t talk about how writing this Christmas album review on Halloween spooked me; or that even though the album is pretty good, I wouldn’t call it – you know – scary good.
Boney James, who can play more instruments than should be humanly possible, is one of the best contemporary jazz musicians around. He’s pretty much owned the Billboard charts for years and his last album, 2006’s Shine, was a huge seller, pleasing his many fans and probably making some new ones.
What we have here is a nice collection consisting of mostly traditional holiday tunes, played in a conventional manner with Boney carrying the melody very nicely. But there are also a few surprises thrown into the mix, including guest stars joining in on several tracks.
Boney’s tenor sax play is front and center on “O Tannenbaum,” with beautiful tone and a high level of improvisation while still maintaining the melody. His tenor is again outstanding on a traditional treatment of “The First Noel,” but here he’s joined by guest Rick Braun’s inspired flugelhorn play.
Vocalist Anthony Hamilton takes over for much of “Silent Night,” which was possibly too non-traditional for me, but might appeal to some. Boney again played tenor on that tune, but he picks up his soprano sax for a glorious turn on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” probably my favorite on the album.
Other guest stars include vocalists Chanté Moore and Angie Stone, and several accomplished pros as sidemen. All in all, a good holiday album by a musician completely on top of his game. Boney’s fans are numerous and loyal, and will be a happy and appreciative audience for this album, as will anyone else who is searching for a diversified collection of holiday jazz.
1 Skating 3:36
2 Santa Baby (w/ Chanté Moore) 4:38
3 O Tannenbaum 4:09
4 River 4:06
5 The First Noel (w/ Rick Braun) 4:41
6 Merry Christmas Baby (w/ Angie Stone) 4:28
7 My Grown Up Christmas List 4:44
8 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 3:31
9 Silent Night (w/ Anthony Hamilton) 5:16
10 Auld Lang Syne 3:52
(Follow Amazon link for sample sound clips.)