MAXJAZZ is a little label out of St. Louis with an extraordinary roster of traditional jazz vocalists like Carla Cook, Rene Marie, LaVerne Butler, and Mary Stallings, who all emphasize taste, precision, swing and melody over showmanship and histrionics, lending themselves ideally to a collection of holiday standards.
Cyrus Chestnut’s bluesy, stately but rhythmically emphatic piano gives Carla Cook an ideal setting for a relaxed, soulful “Do You Hear What I Hear?” while their “Silent Night” is reverence in 3/4 time.
Rene Marie, who combines luxuriant, playful sensuality with precision — Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald — stretches and yawns like a cat in front of the fireplace on “Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow” and only the most foolish man would argue. Her “Winter Wonderland” is spare and suggestive, backed for the first verse only by Ugonna Okegwo’s walking acoustic bass line.
LaVerne Butler and pianist Bruce Barth swing freely through “Sleigh Ride,” with Barth taking some creative liberties with his chording and a fancy solo break, while on the very next tune he waxes gentle behind Mary Stallings’s contemplative “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Butler’s “Christmas Song” is faithful to the classic Nat King Cole arrangement, albeit sans strings, while Stallings’s sprightly, swingy “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” couldn’t be much farther in tone from the mournful Judy Garland original.
Phillip Manuel breaks the distaff stranglehold with a sweet, gospelly waltz-time “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and Barth’s trio instrumentals “O Christmas Tree” and “Greensleaves” (with Okegwo and drummer Montez Coleman) can’t help but taste like Peanuts while never explicitly copping from Vince Guaraldi.