Christmas music over the last couple of decades seems to be dominated by either Slade and Wizzard, or Mariah Carey and The Pogues. If you want something a bit different, though, you could try Christmas with Clare Teal for an evening of jazzy big band music with a Christmas flavour.
Joining Teal is Gary Williams, a well-known name among big band fans. His smooth, easy-listening vocals blend nicely with Teal’s and add to the relaxed feel of the whole evening. Both Teal and Williams have an engaging presenting style, with lots of easy-going banter and chat between themselves, and with the audience and band. The result is that it almost feels as though you’re sat talking with a group of friends while listening to some gentle music; so much so that Birmingham’s Town hall, although not large by modern standards, almost feels too big for the atmosphere they seem to be trying to create.
There’s a good mix of vocals and instrumental pieces which gives some variety. The band opens proceedings with Stan Kenton’s version of Good King Wenceslas, giving the concert a brassy and slightly unbalanced start before things settle down with a steadier It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. What follows is a mixture of older and more recent Christmas songs, well-known and less well-known music, ballads and carols – though not always the version that is usually heard. From a swinging Jingle Bells and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer to All I want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey had to pop up somewhere in a Christmas concert – there’s a good variety of material for everyone.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Mel Torme’s Christmas Song, and Williams gives it a smooth feel, while Teal provides the vocals for one of the real highlights of the evening, a beautiful unfussy That’s What I Want for Christmas – a gentle moment between some of the band numbers. Teal and Williams pretty much share the vocal honours between them, with the well known Let it Snow, I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and Santa Claus is Coming To Town and duet on Baby It’s Cold Outside. Among these are less-well-known arrangements – Gordon Goodwin’s Santa Baby with the tune bouncing from trombone to piccolo and pretty much everything in between, and Duke Ellington’s Sugar Rum Fairy gives The Nutcracker a calypso feel.
The Christmas feel is broken occasionally with some other big band standards, including some Glenn Miller, Minnie the Moocher and the Gene Krupa standard Let Me Off Uptown with Teal and trumpeter Mike Lovatt providing a solo. In fact, Lovatt is only one of the many soloists among the talented and accomplished 16-piece band, almost all of whom get their moment in the limelight at some point or other during the evening.
Although one or two of the arrangements – classics though they may be – seem a bit loud and brass-heavy for the overall feel of the concert, Christmas with Clare Teal provides a pleasant and unchallenging break from pop music and Christmas shopping. All in all, not a bad way to spend a pre-Christmas evening.
Reviewer: James Garrington for The Reviews Hub, 18th December 2016