TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY – A Jazz Piano Christmas*
[All 13 tracks arranged by James G. Skafish (Skafish Music/BMI), La Befana Records, 2006]
* Note: The idea for this 13-track, 68 minute album was inspired by Glinda Harrison, Vice President of La Befana Records and close confidante of Skafish since 1979. Skafish begins each track with an original musical introduction, followed by a recognizable melody with stepped-up altered harmonies, ending with a completely unique and improvised inventive rendition. Each piece is transformed into a new and singular original jazz composition.
The album roughly divides into three parts. The first part comprises five tracks, each a familiar Christmas melody designed to put the listener into the Christmas mood with upbeat festive fare, ambience and elegance. The second part of five tracks represents a deepening and growth of musical complexity, with more altered harmonies, extended improvisation, complex arrangements and deeper emotional exploration.
The finale section is three tracks starting with the first piece pushing the boundaries of improvisation the furthest, followed by the second track, designed to be an all out finale showstopper. The third and final arrangement of the album is a curtain call and reprise, bringing the record full circle, back to the joy and fun with which it began.
Skafish first met this album’s bassist, Lawrence Kohut, and drummer, Tom Hipskind, minutes before production began. In a little over three days, a record was recorded from beginning to end that is seasoned, sophisticated, and relaxed yet precise. Each track was recorded in the order it appears on the record, to allow listeners to experience the plot’s organic unfoldment, and to bear witness to the spontaneity of each performance as if they were sitting in the studio with the artists.
1. Joy To The World – (Watts-Mason) 4:07 – This arrangement is a fun, straightforward, up tempo swing piece, played to bring people immediately into the holiday spirit. Recorded in two takes.
2. Deck The Halls – (Traditional) 3:33 – Also recorded in two takes, a mid-tempo swing, an intimate fun creation. Listeners are invited to get acquainted and settle in with the players, and to experience the textures of the first section of the record.
3. The First Noel – (Traditional) 3:39 – Recorded in one take and a little slower than Deck the Halls, Skafish surrounds you in an intimate, cozy atmosphere, capturing a feeling both warm and relaxed.
4. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – (Sears-Willis) 5:14 – As if this composition has all the time in the world, the rhythm section recalls an old fashioned slow country swing feel, while Skafish’s piano is mellow and reflective. Recorded in two takes.
5. Silent Night – (Mohr-Gruber) 5:09 – Recorded on the second take, an ambient elegant tone sets the mood here for the first ballad of the record, plentiful with lovely arpeggios to celebrate the beauty of nature’s stillness.
6. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – (Wesley-Mendelssohn) 4:54 – Showcasing a cool laid back jazz feel with more challenging harmonies, this track deepens the feel of the record, with improvisation stretching and extending, featuring a noteworthy bass solo. Recorded in three takes.
7. O Come O Come Emmanuel – (Traditional) 5:38 – A tad faster than Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Skafish presents a more dramatic rendition of the old standard. Beginning with an ancient Oriental motif and some New Age touches, this arrangement progresses to a classic cool jazz feel featuring powerful tom-tom drum work, deepening as the plot unfolds. Recorded in two takes.
8. What Child Is This? – (Traditional English Melody) 4:27 – Recorded in one take. Beginning introspectively and with subtlety, this piece gradually and methodically intensifies. Steadily building and punctuated by thunderous drumming near the end, this arrangement reaches a climactic and classical conclusion, featuring commanding pianistic dominance.
9. Angels We Have Heard On High – (Traditional French Carol) 4:58 – Recorded on take two, Skafish looks to deepen the complexities and technical virtuosity in this piece. You can hear the increasing intricacy of the performances and interaction of piano, bass and drums. Warm piano sounds, jazzy soundscapes, with a touch of quirky childlike innocence.
10. Away In A Manger – (Traditional) 4:54 – Recorded in one take, Skafish envisions the eyes of the pain of Mary, foreshadowing the loss to come. Reflective, bluesy and pensive, the feeling of separateness through alienation is explored. This is the slowest track on the album and the second ballad, bringing Part Two to a conclusion.
PART THREE – FINALE:
11. We Three Kings Fusion – (Skafish-Hopkins) 10:27 – Recorded, amazingly, in one take, Skafish pushes the boundaries and goes further than any prior arrangement. This piece was inspired by the jazz fusion group Weather Report, the classic rock of The Who and also features an end section reminiscent of 20th Century Avante Garde artist John Cage. Fusing three unlikely aesthetic elements, Skafish achieves a thunderous, bombastic, explosive piece, the longest creation on the album. An arrangement for lovers of jazz.
12. God Rest Ye Merry Gents – (Skafish-Traditional English Carol) 5:57 – Skafish: ”Think of Times Square at the end of World War II: people coming back, dancing, celebrating, swinging.“ Recorded on the second take, Skafish lunged into an impromptu off-the-cuff boogie-woogie solo piano section. In this arrangement, Skafish told his drummer, ”Think Gene Krupa!“
13. Jingle Bells – (Pierpont) 5:02 – An arrangement with challenging piano chromatic sections, this piece is the danceable curtain call and reprise – bringing the album full circle from innocence and whimsicalness, to a deep explorative departure, and finally concluding with childlike fun. This track featured the most takes, completed on take 4.