Vocalist Jason Paul Curtis employs two swing bands and sings with his teen daughter on “These Christmas Days.” The release is Curtis’ second since his 2012 debut. Just in time for the holidays, the CD will be available Nov. 24.
Jason Paul Curtis and “These Christmas Days”
Most of the songs on “These Christmas Days” are originals. Curtis works with SwingLab and Swing Shift to create the soundscape for the album. Each band contributes special qualities to the songs that they play on, but it is Curtis’ voice that gets the audience’s attention.
“These Christmas Days” is comprised of eight original songs, and two cover songs. There is a verve and energy that takes most of the songs beyond the usual. Curtis also displays the special skill of elongated phrasing and creating a tone that symbolizes both the traditions of jazz and of the Christmas season.
The images and narratives that Curtis crafts on “These Christmas Days” are mostly romantic and nostalgic. Curtis looks back on what Christmas mornings look and feel like to children, the excitement of waiting to open presents, the joy of snow, and the romance of the season for adults.
Some of the best moments on the album happen when Curtis’ voice stretches and snaps, as if an instrument following the direction of musical notation. In short, his voice is well-controlled. Most jazz audiences have heard voices similar to Curtis’ before–a smooth, flexible tenor.
What some audiences have also heard is such voices running into a nasal quality in an attempt to imbue the work with movement or drama. It doesn’t happen with Curtis. Even when I waited for it, actually braced myself against it, the negative quality didn’t show. Its absence was a pleasant surprise.
“These Christmas Days” soundscape
Arguably the best cover song on the recording is “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for the) Man With the Bag.” A tune made famous by Kay Starr. The instrumentation actually shines here, too. In fact, the song’s big opening sets the tone for the energy to come.
The big band swing, and Curtis’ phrasing that seems to wrap each phrase around the next, have a dizzying effect on listeners. The feeling that is evoked is one of Christmas in a big city. The movement of the music is like that of the traditional hustle and bustle. It is a nice way to open the album.
“I Want Snow”
Classically pretty, the song’s theme is simple. The unadorned message allows for the showcasing of the father-daughter voices. While listeners have grown accustomed to Curtis’ voice, Isabella’s very high, lilting voice is bright and engaging.
The song’s inspiration is a surprise–the late George Michael. Curtis thought of the British singer’s “Last Christmas,” and thought he would add to the “Christmas Breakup canon of holiday song,” the singer explains.
The song is wry, jazz-oriented and fast-paced. The blare of horns and overall feel will remind some audiences of “Moondance”-era Van Morrison. It details a calendar’s worth of romantic closeness that dissipated in winter. Curtis appears to have achieved his goal of crafting a holiday breakup song.
For those wishing to hear Christmas jazz that is tasteful and just a bit beyond the norm, “These Christmas Days” might be the CD for them.