The Christmas songs may be recognizable but the interpretations are unique.
The Berlin Voices are a jazz foursome that has had considerable success in their home country. They have a sound reminiscent of The Manhattan Transfer but with a harder jazz edge. The group consists of Esther Kaiser (soprano/alto), Sarah Kaiser (soprano/alto), Marc Secara (tenor), and Kristof Benn (baritone). They sing in both English and German.
The voices fit together well to form tight harmonies. At times the vocals run counterpoint to each other and to the melody. The instrumental foundation is mostly bass, drums, and piano with sax, flute, and clarinet on the breaks. It all adds up to a type of swing jazz that is reminiscent of the big band era.
The classic Christmas Hymn “Joy To The World” begins the album and quickly establishes the fact that while the songs may be traditional the listening experience is not. The harmonies tail off and then merge again and swirl up to a crescendo. It is followed by “Angels We Have Heard On High,” which is a good example of the counterpoint technique that many jazz instrumentalists use but rarely vocal groups.
There are a number of exceptional performances. “Medley: The First Noel/A Child Is Born” flows smoothly from beginning to end. “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” is my personal favorite. It uses a very casual approach yet is emotional and inspirational at the same time. “It’s Christmas Time All Over The World” makes use of some fine sax work. I may not understand the words to “Stille Nacht” but the melody is instantly recognizable and the harmonies are exquisite.
The liner notes are in German and English, which was a wise move since they plan to market the CD in The United States as well as their home country. There are also comments about each song which is a nice touch. I would have liked a more extensive introduction to each of the group members, but that will have to wait until next time.
There are dozens of Christmas albums released each year but few will be as unique as About Christmas by the Berlin Voices. They have managed to combine their talents and vision to create a jazz laden and swinging Christmas release.