Bringing their swinging Christmas show to the Dakota in Minneapolis on Wednesday was extra-special for singer Maria Muldaur and guitarist John Jorgenson.
Before she performed her reworked-for-the-season “Christmas at the Oasis” (more on that later), Muldaur explained the significance of the occasion. She’d met Jorgenson at the wedding of Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett and Karen Sternal a few years ago in Minneapolis.
Rather than mixing with the wedding guests, the two California-based musicians – who performed separately that night – found themselves talking together in a corner. Discovering common ground eventually led to them collaborating on this year’s holiday show featuring blues and jazz tunes, mostly from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.
As they interpreted obscure chestnuts associated with Louis Armstrong, Mabel Scott, Victoria Spivey and Louis Prima as well as yule signatures of Charles Brown, Eartha Kitt and Mel Torme, Muldaur and Jorgenson proved to be compatible and complementary.
A former member of Elton John’s touring band, he’s a gifted guitarist with a wide vocabulary, embracing everything from the blues and jazz to Hawaiian music. Honored this fall with the Trailblazer Award by the Americana Music Association, she has an affinity for vintage blues and jazz, with a knowing sense of phrasing of someone who has lived with this music.
Stepping into a more contemporary world for a moment, Jorgenson took a piano detour at the Dakota to sing Joni Mitchell’s “River,” accompanied by drummer Rick Reed and bassist Simon Planting.
Muldaur injected a humorous ditty she’d discovered on the Internet, “Holiday Dinner.” Set to the tune “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” this remake detailed all the guests and their various food restrictions. “If you’re vegan, why do you accept?” she scolded.
While the slow and sexy blues “Merry Christmas, Baby” was the musical highlight, “Christmas at the Oasis” was the night’s biggest crowd pleaser. Set to the melody of Muldaur’s 1974 smash “Midnight at the Oasis,” this reimaging mentioned traces of sugar plums, the north pole and kicking up snow before delivering the sassy come-on: “You won’t need any reindeer when I take you for a ride.”
All and all, a welcomed – and musically tantalizing -- twist on Christmas music.