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Soul Express Album of the Month - December 2005

Christmas Fantasy

US Blue Note 2005
1) Frosty's Rag (Frosty the Snowman) 2) Christmas Time Is Here 3) I'll Be Home for Christmas 4) Christmas Fantasy 5) God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen 6) Moonlight Sleighride 7) O Come, All Ye Faithful (featuring The Yellow Jackets) 8) Family of Man 9) My Favourite Things
Produced by Anita Baker & Barry Eastmond

A Christmas album with mostly traditional yuletide songs, the central theme being, to quote Anita: "I wanted mom and dad to have a recording that we could listen to with a glass of wine after the kids were in bed." Doesn't sound too adventurous, does it?

Well, adventurous may not be the right word for it, but for those of us who've been hoping Anita make bolder and more frequent excursions into jazz, this album is actually an extremely pleasant addition to her illustrious recording career. Many of the arrangements place Anita in a straight jazz setting, with some of the tracks adding a soul / fusion flavour to the proceedings. The musicians playing on the album include George Duke, Phil Upchurch, Ricky Lawson, Joe Sample, Nathan East, The Yellowjackets and Larry Carlton.

What is quite remarkable about the album is the fact that Anita sounds better than ever! She really is in fine voice, and I for one certainly don't mind her current liking for scat singing. Listening to traditional Xmas songs like God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen or O Come, All Ye Faithful in October is no chore, when the arrangements are classy and the vocalist superb.

The melodically accessible Family of Man and Christmas Fantasy represent the kind of classy Anita Baker midtempo soul songs easily found on her previous albums, while at the jazzy end of the spectrum I particularly enjoyed Anita's reading of I'll Be Home for Christmas and My Favourite Things, the latter-mentioned being my favourite cut on the album.

This tune actually affords us an interesting opportunity to compare Anita's vocals in different stages of her career: Anita covered the tune as early as 1998 when she guested on jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut's eponymous album. Listening to both performances back-to-back today, it is easy to notice that while there was nothing wrong with the first interpretation, her performance seven years later is much more relaxed, looser, more confident. Anita Baker is back in full swing, no doubt about it. (8) –Petteri Ruotsalainen

All Soul Express Albums of the Month in 2005
The Soul Express Albums of the Month in 2004
Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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