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Carlson brings jazzy feel to Christmas

This is probably not going to come out the way I intend it to, but I'm going to say it anyway. Remember Charles Schulz? Well, of course you do. I'm a "Peanuts" fan, as are many Americans, and it's going to sound a little strange, but one of my fa...

This is probably not going to come out the way I intend it to, but I'm going to say it anyway.
Remember Charles Schulz? Well, of course you do. I'm a "Peanuts" fan, as are many Americans, and it's going to sound a little strange, but one of my favorite parts of the televised "Peanuts" shows was the music.
First you had Schroeder's jazzy classical meanderings, played to Lucy's swoony delight. Then you had those trippy things backing up Snoopy's antics or some transitional scene where Charlie Brown and the gang were walking along. And the songs the kids would break into.
All this music had a certain verve to it, along with a certain over-the-top goofiness that I find infectious.
Margaret Carlson's "This Christmas ... My Favorite Things" has a little of that feel to it, as if a great-voiced Lucy were singing vocal jazz over Schroeder's plinking on the ivories, and every now and then Snoopy wandered by and an up-tempo flute solo broke out. And it was all based on Christmas music.
The impression I don't want to give is that Carlson's CD is goofy. It's schmaltzy enough to flirt with goofy on one or two occasions, but it never gets there. Carlson is a serious and talented musician, and I'm not trying to trivialize.
Mostly it's just some combination of the piano styles, which feature prominently on the disc, and the occasional flute interlude triggering these warm, if cartoonish, memories.
Carlson's voice is smooth and silky, just perfectly suited to the flowing style of these arrangements.
Carlson also is backed by a talented group -- starting with pianists Frank Mantooth and Dick Reynolds, who also handled the lion's share of the arranging.
Kim Park makes frequent forays with flute, alto sax and soprano sax, and a steady rhythm section keeps everything running smoothly.
The title track, "My Favorite Things," is a highlight. One of the funkier and more interesting tracks is "Winter Wonderland," which has a Latin rhythm and a neat chromatic piano part to go along with it.
Sometimes the more traditional arrangements are equally effective: "Away in a Manger" is pretty true to the sounds of the original carol, but it's such a sweet ballad it can't help but win, and Park's sax playing is a perfect complement.
"I Saw Three Ships" is a carol that I think of frequently during Duluth's Decembers as I look out over the lake and see ships parked in our harbor. Carlson does a nice job with this tune, as well.
"White Christmas" is a lovely, sparsely orchestrated close to the disc. Very nice, especially with the intricate piano harmonies underlying the Mantooth/Carlson arrangement.
I'm a little less keen on "This Christmas" (the other title track?), which sounds a little too '80s elevator musicish for my taste.
My final analysis is that "This Christmas" is a terrific Christmas album, because it's so versatile. Lots of people put holiday CDs on for background music during gatherings. Others want foreground sounds when they're wrapping presents or sitting by the fire. Whichever need you happen to have, this will work.
And if Charles Schulz flashbacks give you a warm fuzzy, well then so much the better.
Kyle Eller is news editor at the Budgeteer News. Contact him at 723-1207 or at kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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