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Harry Connick, Jr. : What A Night! A Christmas Album (Columbia)

Some guys just can’t get enough of Christmas. This marks crooner/pianist Connick’s third holiday effort—the first two were When My Heart Finds Christmas (1993) and Harry for the Holidays (2003)—and as you might expect, it’s blend of big band and small orchestra jazz and pop takes on a selection of classic tunes and a few originals. Connick is such a natural at this—he’s got some of Frank Sinatra’s swing, Tony Bennett’s expert phrasing, and Mel Torme’s technical chops, but he still sounds like himself. And he does all the arrangements, orchestrations and conducting himself. Why, this could well be one of the best Christmas albums of 1959! My favorites are the jazzy and imaginatively arranged takes on favorites like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” the New Orleans-ish instrumentals “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” and “We Three Kings,” the bluesy “Please Come Home for Christmas” and the small-group version of the more obscure “Zat You Santa Claus.” Less successful is the odd “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which he sings straight over a mismatched walking bass/piano line. The originals are all okay, though I don’t hear any future standards on there (and “Song for the Hopeful” is hopelessly schmaltzy). A few guest singers share in the holiday mood, including Kim Burrell (gospel vibe), Lucien Barbarain (hipster), and Kate Connick (Harry’s daughter). Throughout, Connick’s piano playing is sublime—in fact it leaves me wanting to hear more small-group arrangements that really let his playing shine (or perhaps even solo piano, as on the first couple of minutes of “We Three Kings”). Oh well, maybe on his fourth Christmas album!

Must Plays: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “We Three Kings

Producer: Tracey Freeman. Engineer (tracking and mixing): Vincent Caro. Studios: Avatar and Legacy (both in NYC); mixed at Macneck Inferno. Mastering: Vlado Meller/Universal Mastering (NYC).

—Blair Jackson