"The Holiday Show Album" by the New Standards

This jazzy lounge trio's annual holiday shows with unadvertised all-star guests have become a must-see December tradition in the Twin Cities. With COVID-19 knocking out this year's concerts, this timely studio album not only creates fond memories of Christmases past but serves as a musically and spiritually satisfying yule collection even if you've never heard of this lovably idiosyncratic ensemble.

Without the nuttier-than-a-fruitcake pageantry and delightfully quippy banter between pianist/singer Chan Poling and bassist/singer John Munson in concert, the emphasis falls on the inventive joy-to-the-world jazziness of the trio and its large supporting cast. The terrific arrangements are the MVP here, drawing on timeless big band swing, measured percussive flourishes and tasty string sweetening. The end result is an artful balance of festive heft and fireplace intimacy.

Whether performing seasonal songs or not, the New Standards' calling card is their flair for inspired reimaginations of the familiar. They kick off this collection with a luxurious big band interpretation of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," with blaring horns and prancing vibes courtesy of Steve Roehm, the vocally silent New Standard. "Do You Hear What I Hear" is resourcefully recast as a perk-up-the-ears tango, while guest Nellie McKay duets with Poling on the cuddly "Christmas Waltz."

Other holiday helpers include Minnesota vocalists Jeremy Messersmith and Chris Koza, each doing his own dreamy pop original, and Aby Wolf, whose mystical, Enya-evoking reading of "Silent Night" is the only selection here recorded in concert.

Standing out are two originals that have become New Standards holiday standards. An epic rendition of Trip Shakespeare's "Snow Days" (written in 1990) features great horns, splendid harmonies and a bravura vocal by ex-Tripper Munson. And Poling's masterly "Christmastime Next Year," given a jubilant Phil Spector-esque treatment, sounds like a seasonal classic waiting to be discovered by the masses.

Jon Bream, Star Tribune

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