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CD Review: Ben Paterson “I’ll Be Thanking Santa”

By Hrayr Attarian

Ben Paterson I’ll Be Thanking Santa

Ben Paterson – Piano and vocals

Luke Sellik – Bass

Charles Goold – Drums

Christmas music, especially around the winter holidays, makes for an enticing crossover opportunity for jazz musicians. The reaction to it can range from the casual fan’s excited welcome to the purist’s skeptical dismissal. This, nevertheless, has not stopped such greats as pianists Nat “King” Cole, Ramsey Lewis, and Vince Guaraldi from releasing best selling interpretations of these seasonal songs. Another pianist, the sophisticated Ben Paterson, joins the fold with his I’ll Be Thanking Santa.

On this charming album, Paterson leads the trio on nine of his favorite Christmas tunes plus two originals that showcase his vocal skills. The recording opens with the traditional “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” setting an elegant, lounge-ish mood. Sandwiched between Paterson’s short, lyrical piano solos, the effervescent interplay features Paterson’s soulful embellishments as well as his percussive exchanges with drummer Charles Goold’s thunderous beats. Bassist Luke Sellik shines with an eloquent and graceful improvisaion that bisects the piece.

Elsewhere, Paterson brings a warm and contemplative intimacy to Robert Wells’ and Mel Tormé’s 1945 “The Christmas Song.” His vibrant pianism infuses the German carol “O Tannenbaum” with a bluesy spontaneity. In addition, the band’s exquisite synergy creates crystalline rhythmic flourishes—spicing up, for example, Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” with a Latin flavor.

Paterson’s dramatic and erudite singing gives his own “Christmas Won’t You Stick Around for a While” a good humored, dry wit. The piece itself has an undulating cadence with a gentle and lithe sway. Clear, chiming keys and silent pauses form the backbone of the melody while Goold contributes tastefully brushed vamps and Sellik, subtle thuds and thumps.

The title track is another Paterson composition. Uptempo and full of verve and élan, Paterson expands on the main melody with virtuosity and finesse. His brief duet with Goold is inventive and buoyant while Sellik takes center stage with nimble panache and impromptu lines.

This enjoyable record concludes with Paterson’s wistful, solo piano rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Thanks to the musicians’ immense talent and their seamless camaraderie I’ll Be Thanking Santa, under the right circumstances, could be savored by the most hardcore jazz aficionado.

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