Pennsylvania pianist, David Leonhardt, offers jazz fans a traditional Christmas album with a personal twist. Leonhardt is a highly polished musician with fresh ideas. It's a difficult task to plan an album of holiday favorites without echoing the recorded efforts of others.
The pianist comes from a thirty year career during which he performed with such diverse talents as Buddy DeFranco, Slide Hampton, Dave Leibman, Buddy Tate and Diane Reeves. Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford and David "Fathead" Newman are among the people who recorded Leonhardt's compositions.
Saxophonist, Larry McKenna, has been a part of the Philly jazz scene for five decades and his experience is not wasted here. McKenna delivers the prettiest reading I've ever heard of the title tune. His silky smooth tones compel the listener play the track over again.
Vocalist, Nancy Reed, adds some fire to the group's "Sleigh Ride." This rendition will melt the snow! The Brooklyn raised vocalist is the child of a jazz pianist and an opera singer. Reed's vocals are outstanding throughout the CD but "Let It Snow" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" are special. Nancy Reed swings, no matter the tempo.
David Leonhardt is certainly a member of the "cool" school and his arrangements are paramount in making this project "work" as well as it does. The rhythm section includes bassist Matthew Parrish who presently appears with violinist Regina Carter. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Marian McPartland and Harry "Sweets" Edison. Drummer, Taro Okamato, a 20-year veteran of the New York scene comes from a background with Hank Jones, Warne Marsh and Duke Jordan. "White Christmas" offers a swinging example of Leonhardt, Parrish and Okamoto on fire.
In the humble opinion of this reviewer, I'll Be Home For Christmas is the tastiest holiday album in recent years.