“We've been enjoying the music of Larry McDonough for a number of years, so it's about time we spend the holidays with this creative pianist/vocalist/bandleader/composer. Here Larry has compiled favorites from his repertoire of traditional holiday fare as well as more modern works often associated with the season, presented in solo, duo and quartet contexts and all blessed with Larry's trademarks of odd time signatures and inventive harmonies.
Not your mother's holiday album, McDonough leads off with a tribal groove along with drummer Chaz Draper and bassist Craig Matarrese on "My Favorite Things," enhanced by echoes of Coltrane from saxman Richard Terrill, then goes solo in transforming "Jingle Bells" into an elegant jazz ballad. Other popular seasonal songs are given unfamiliar treatments-- the dark shades of gray on "Silent Night" and "Simple Gifts"; a delicate piano/sax duo reharmonizing "Little Drummer Boy" (sans drums!); a reconsidered "Ode to Joy" that sneaks in a snippet of Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby"; a "We Three Kings" that musically leans toward Bethlehem; and an "Angels We Have Heard On High" with staggering rhythms.
The pop inclusions are no less satisfying, from Richard Terrill's haunting sax on the minor waltz arrangement of "Alone in the World" from Mr. McGoo’s Christmas Carol to the quartet's free-wheeling, "Paul Simon Meets Ornette Coleman" rendition of "Scarborough Fair." Spending the holidays with Larry McDonough is like the best of family reunions--getting reacquainted with relatives who seem so different from how we remember them, and so much more interesting.”
Larry McDonough Jazz
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Arrangements, (ASCAP), piano and voice by Larry McDonough
Tenor and soprano saxophones on tracks 1 and 3-10 by Richard Terrill
Drums on tracks 1, 4, 6, and 8 by Chaz Draper
Bass on tracks 1, 4, 6 and 8 by Craig Matarrese
Tracks 1, 6, and 8 were recorded in 2004 by Matthew Zimmerman, Wild Sound, Minneapolis, MN, and previously released on the Larry McDonough Quartet CD Simple Gifts (2005). Tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9 were recorded in 2011 by Matthew Zimmerman. Track 4 was recorded live at the Palace Art Gallery, St. Paul, MN, in 2009 by Craig Matarrese. Track 10 was recorded in 2013 by Steve Kaul, Wild Sound.
“I never intended to record a holiday CD.
I often found holiday recordings to be uninspired covers of the same old Christmas song book. Over the years I received many requests to perform holiday tunes during the season, so I gradually arranged a few pieces to fit the style of the Larry McDonough Quartet (LMQ). For more than 10 years, LMQ has focused on original material and reharmonized covers in complex meters in the style of Herbie, Miles, Coltrane, Brubeck, and Bill Evans. I decided to reimagine holiday pieces in this paradigm. I also expanded the holiday song book to include pieces that were not composed for the holidays but often are heard then, as well as popular pieces from holidays past that rarely are performed in jazz. Angels, Kings, My Favorite Things includes new recordings as well as performances from the 2005 LMQ CD Simple Gifts.
We begin the CD with My Favorite Things. While not written as a Christmas piece, the movie The Sound of Music became a holiday favorite when I was a child. The LMQ arrangement is based on the Coltrane version but in 5/4 time with a tribal rhythmic pattern and a bass line emphasizing a tritone to add to the dissonance. It begins with Craig Matarrese’s bass solo over a piano and drums duo. The structure goes through the piece only once, with solos between the verses. Richard Terrill evokes Coltrane in his soaring soprano sax, with Chaz Draper ending the piece with an explosive drum solo echoing Elvin Jones. We first released it on the CD Simple Gifts.
Jingle Bells is the only solo piano piece, taking me back to my earlier solo piano recordings Small Steps and Tuscarora: Short Stories for Jazz Piano. I treated the traditional piece as a ballad with Gershwin harmonies and performed it in the style of Bill Evans.
Silent Night continues the somber mood as a duo with Richard, with whom I recorded the recent duo CD Solitude, poetry in jazz. I set it in a rolling 7/4 time and minor-major 7th harmonies, with my voice taking the lead at the beginning and Richard’s haunting tenor sax on the way out.
We radically change the mood with the live LMQ performance of Scarborough Fair at the Palace Gallery. I elongated the original 3/4 time melody over an intense 7/4, harking back to the progressive jazz recordings of ECM Records in the 1970s. Richard takes one chorus and then we gradually move into a free section that takes the traditional piece to the avant-garde.
As a child I always looked forward to holiday rebroadcasts of Mr. McGoo’s Christmas Carol. Maybe it was the animation, its presentation as a musical, or just Mr. McGoo appearing as Scrooge. In my youth I was an outsider spending a lot of time by myself, so it probably was not surprising that I connected to the piece Alone in the World about Scrooge’s lonely childhood. Still, the peppy two-beat rhythm and major harmonies seemed disconnected to the sad message. I rearranged it for a duo with Richard as a slow waltz with chromatic minor harmonies, and Richard’s mournful tenor sax perfectly fits the mood, adding The Lord's Bright Blessing from the show as an intro and outro.
Simple Gifts was the title track for the 2005 LMQ CD. Richard’s wife, Linda, commented to me once how she very much liked the traditional piece. As a gift to her, I wrote this arrangement for LMQ, putting it in 7/4 time along with minor harmonies. I have been singing Simple Gifts for many years but never tire of its message or this arrangement.
With Little Drummer Boy we return to the duo but with Richard on the soprano sax. It is unusual to hear this piece without the traditional military snare drum setting it up, but the sparse presentation of saxophone and piano seems better suited to the birth of Jesus. While I retained the 4/4 time signature, I reharmonized it with polytonal chords to give it more depth.
I arranged Beethoven’s Ode to Joy for the LMQ CD Simple Gifts in the style of a Bill Evans waltz, with the A section over a C pedal and the B section over a G pedal. It starts quietly with each solo increasing in intensity, culminating in Chaz’s drum solo, and then back to the B section. The group nailed the Evans mood, leading me to throw in some quotes from his pieces.
I wanted to capture a Middle Eastern feel in We Three Kings so I moved it from 3/4 to 5/4 time. I mostly kept the harmonic structure intact for the verse, but modulated the chorus up a half-step from E-minor to F-major, which makes for a transition from the chorus back to the verse, implying rising key signatures throughout the piece. Richard’s soprano completes the effect.
We finish the recording with a duo performance of Angels We Have Heard on High in a peaceful 7/4 time with descending 7ths in the verse and Gershwin minor harmonies for the Gloria. Richard takes the melody at the beginning with my voice taking it out.
I hope you enjoy the variety of pieces, harmonies, rhythms, and settings of this CD. Thanks to band members Richard Terrill, Chaz Draper, and Craig Matarrese; Matthew Zimmerman and Steve Kaul at Wild Sound; Andrea Canter for her review and photographs; Eric Hanson for the perfect CD cover; and my wife Carol Bergquist for her love and support. I am a lucky guy.”