Christmas At My House

Larry Carlton

MCA Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/24/2004

I'm not a big fan of The OC, but I had to laugh when I saw the ads where one of the characters' blended family is getting ready to celebrate "Christmakah." As a somewhat agnostic half-Jew raised by my Christian mother, I usually look forward to the holidays with a mixture of dread and bemusement. Our household's approach to the winter holidays is pretty much buffet-style, and I'm not talking about the meals.

That said, there are things I've always enjoyed about Christmas. Not the food -- turkey and mashed potatoes has never really done it for me. Not the shopping -- I'd rather have a filling drilled novocaine-free than spend an hour in a mall between Thanksgiving and New Year's. But the music… yeah, some of that is alright. Of the many albums of Christmas music that have passed through my CD player over the years, none has returned more often than this relatively obscure disc of contemporary jazz-pop by renowned session and solo guitarist Larry Carlton.bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

Carlton's style is the epitome of smooth jazz, all flowing melody lines and nimble, understated runs up and down the frets over mellow piano-organ-bass-drums backing. If I were a Christmas traditionalist, the absence of lyrics and the dinner-club arrangements of these songs might bother me. But as background music designed to get you in the holiday spirit without hitting you over the head with Santa's fully-loaded bag, it's a home run.

Personal favorites include Carlton's lilting take on "Winter Wonderland," where his gentle picking duets with Terry Trotter's electric and acoustic piano through the verses and on into a snappy series of solo passages; "White Christmas," where Michael Fisher's work on bells and percussion brightly decorates Carlton's fluid electric leads; and "What Child Is This," which Carlton transforms into a skittering, at times scintillating nightclub jazz jam. He also manages to sandwich some of his smoothest, tastiest soloing between the familiar choruses of "The Little Drummer Boy."

On the quieter side of things, Carlton turns a medley of "Silent Night" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" into a contemplative exploration that captures the essential spiritual message of the original while bringing the songs into a new and unfamiliar landscape. "The Holly And The Ivy" receives an especially pretty treatment, a deceptively simple duet arrangement featuring just Carlton and Trotter. Before he's done Carlton also tips his hat to jazz legend John Coltrane with a steady-burning take on "My Favorite Things," paired here with that other Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite, "We Three Kings Of Orient Are."

Christmas At My House is a great find for those who prefer their Christmas music light on the dogma and easy on the ears. It sets the mood nicely with or without a roaring fire and stockings hung by the chimney with care. Whatever you're celebrating this year, have yourself a merry one!

Rating: B+

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© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.