A Swinging Birdland Christmas
Jim Caruso, Hilary Kole, Billy Stritch, and Aaron Weinstein blend their talents beautifully for this enticing holiday confection.
In an entertainment the group likens to those gone-but-not-entirely-forgotten television specials, the four take the "swinging" seriously, which is to say they infuse their easy efforts with almost constant jollity. They skip into several familiar songs of the season, some less familiar and some that have nothing to do with the season but are merely ripe to have fun with.
For instance, the less-well-known opener, "Holiday Season," was whipped up by frothy genius Kay Thompson. When they bolt into "The Christmas Waltz" like last-minute shoppers rocketing into Macy's on Christmas Eve, they add a counterpoint for which Weinstein wrote the melody and Sharon Douglas wrote the evocative lyric. When the group gets around to "Jingle Bells," it's a pulsating threnody Weinstein whipped up from parts Kay Thompson and parts who-knows. Chatting about their disdain for shopping, they romp through "Discount Boogie," which Stritch, Sharon Montgomery, and Sally Mayes set to Barry Manilow's "Bandstand Boogie." And, jazz lovers, the result sounds as if Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross ride again.
What's extra-special about this confection is the way the four participants blend like ingredients in a fruitcake. Caruso and Stritch -- old friends and long-time collaborators -- play off each other beautifully. They're naturally and off-handedly funny; Caruso gets his laughs with the smile of a car salesman who's just unloaded a lemon on an arrogant mogul, while Stritch gets his yuks with a marvelous deadpan.
Kole, who simply gets better every time you hear her, proves she can be funny without having to compromise her inherent beauty and poise. She's also the one asked to sing "Avalon" with Caruso and Stritch scatting behind her; you wouldn't think it terribly wise to say "Scat!" to Santa, but this fearsome foursome does.
Weinstein, who is thin as a candy cane and habitually garbed as if about to address a Harvard class on economics, plays jazz fiddle like a demon, and he also demonstrates he's the funniest guy with a fiddle since the hilarious Jack Benny.