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  • Writer's pictureJAM

The Simeon Davis Group: Bah Humbug: An Absolutely Unnecessary Christmas Album
 (released 12/2020)

Personnel: Simeon Nathanael Davis (alto sax); Jake Chaffee (bass); August Knobbe (piano); Joshua Parker (drumset); Rachel Azbell (vocals); and Juan Galdamez (percussion).

There really seems to be mainly cheer (and groove) in The Simeon Davis Group’s paradoxically titled album, “Bah Humbug: An Absolutely Unnecessary Christmas Album.” Continuing with the album’s zany title, I’m not sure that any Christmas album is really truly “necessary,” but, if you’re hosting a Christmas party and you need tunes or you like to dance inside while snowflakes fall outside, this album may prove useful to you.

The album is a kind of musical fruitcake, an assortment of distinctly different tunes that span genres, musical decades, and styles, but create a sweet and tasty mix when taken together. Also, as the liner notes mention, this album is not these musicians’ first time with this recipe, but is the result of years of playing perennial Christmas gigs and coming up with new and novel arrangements of classic tunes reimagined over time.

Among the shiners on this album is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as a samba, which grooves hard, and features Juan Galdamez on an array of auxiliary percussion, ranging from pandeiro, triangle, and cuica, all of which are played with verve and authenticity. The tune includes two solo sections for drums and percussion that lend themselves to dance. I spotted at least one person dancing in my kitchen, while I listened to this one and wrote.

“O Come O Come Immanuel” is reimagined as if overlayed on Shorter’s class standard “Footprints.” And the classic tune becomes hipper because of this palimpsest, this blurring and rewriting of the lines.

A wise bandleader once said, “Always have at least one tune with a singer,” and The Simeon Davis Group heeds this wisdom, featuring the dynamic Rachel Azbell’s voice on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the hippest, swinging, bopping version of this Christmas tune that I’ve ever heard. When Azbell scat-sings, it’s like another jangling instrument has taken the stage, a perfect complement to her words, and a perfect complement to the steady-keeled, rumbling, piston-pumping, revving rhythm section backing her. And she’s at the wheel.

Beyond jazz, “Let It Snow” cops a funky James Brown-like groove and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” goes neo-soul. Not only is such genre-bending pleasing, but it’s also thought-provoking. It may make you look at these classic, sunny tunes in a new way. Grittier, hipper. And with more worldliness.

If you can only take one holiday album with you, and you’re open to new interpretations of time-honored tunes, this one might be right for you.

—Kevin Rabas

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