I knew within 15 seconds that Christmas with (the) Rochford Jazz Ensemble (Dental Records RJE5) would get heavy rotation in our home, even after the careful listens necessary for this review.

I’ll be more blunt: I love this CD.

This trio — a self-professed “dentist, carpenter and ex-cable guy” — really knows how to swing, and the arrangements are both clever and creatively “dense.” Most tracks run long, allowing these familiar holiday chestnuts to expand and breathe. Jim Szana does the heavy lifting on piano, and he’s ably supported by Lonnie Schumacher (bass guitar) and Clacie Neu (drums and percussion).

Aside from the sheer pleasure of the musicality, it’s fun to deduce what some of these songs are; in some cases, the improvisational introductions run for quite some time before the light bulb over your head will flash. The album’s opening track is particularly ingenious: a reading of “Joy to the World” that opens with a strong nod to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Águas de Março” (perhaps best known these days for Art Garfunkel’s English-language version, years ago).

Neu plays with tempo in a most engaging manner; “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmas Time Is Here” emerge in a relaxed 2/2 beat, both delivered as slow sashays. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” often given a somber reading elsewhere, turns into an upbeat, toe-tapping swing dance.

“Mary’s Little Boy Child” has a whimsical calypso flavor that befits the song’s history as a Harry Belafonte hit, but you’ll blink when Szana’s piano segues seamlessly, in the middle of the song, into “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” … and then back again. A minor key medley of ” ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” is equally nimble.

A lengthy counterpoint introduction to “Silent Night” will sound naggingly familiar until the melody finally sneaks in wearing quiet Latin shoes; and the Christian hymn “While By My Sheep” is quietly lovely at first, until it transitions into a smoky, Chicago blues-style strut that showcases Szana’s keyboard chops.

The album concludes with a reading of “White Christmas” that is smooth as silk: a solid finale to a truly engaging album.

Derrick Bang
The Davis Enterprise
10 Dec 2009

“Music helps not the toothache.”

George Herbert.

“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do.”

Miles Davis.

“The basic difference between classical music and jazz is that in the form the music is always graver than its performance—whereas the way jazz is performed is always more important than what is being played.”

Andre Previn.

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides!”

Artur Schnabel.

“A musician may suddenly reach a point at which pleasure in the technique of the art entirely falls away, and in some moment of inspiration, he becomes the instrument through which music is played.”

Edwin Diller Starbuck.

“Music is too idealistic a thing to permit itself to be bound to concrete references. You cannot have a white horse in music.”

Paul Rosenfield.

“There’s only one way to sum up music: either it’s good or it’s bad. If it’s good you don’t mess about with it; you just enjoy it.”

Louis Armstrong.

“Forget the notes so that you can play them.”

Jan Sardi.

When asked to define jazz, Louis “Satchmo Armstrong replied, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

Louis Armstrong

“Canned music is like audible wallpaper.”

Alistair Cooke.

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”

Miles Davis.

“Disharmony is simply a harmony to which many are unaccustomed.”

John Cage.

“Discord occasions a momentary distress to the ear, which remains unsatisfied, and even uneasy, until it hears something better.”

Charles Burney.

“Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.”

Pablo Casals.

“Jazz is about the only form of art existing today in which there is freedom of the individual without the loss of group contact.”

Dave Brubeck.

“What we play is life.”

Louis Armstrong.

“Music is your own experience, your thought, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

Charlie Parker.

“Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.”

Igor Stravinsky.

“Jazz is about the only form of MUSIC in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.”

Ornette Coleman.