Sunday, December 14, 2008

CD Review: Verve Christmas Remixed

After four acclaimed collections, the Verve Remixed series finally gets in the holiday spirit with Verve Remixed Christmas. This new collection lets loose a variety of remixers on holiday tracks by jazz greats like Nina Simone, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald. While purists will probably bristle, fans of compilations like the Christmas Remixed series or Merry Mixmas will find another great disc to add to their not-so-traditional holiday music collection.

Remix collections like this can often be a tricky proposition. It's quite easy to turn a classic song into something unlistenable and uninspired. Thankfully, the producers and remixers involved with Verve Remixed Christmas mostly avoid this...even when they sometimes stray very far from the original material.

Some of the remixes enhance and modernize the spirit of the original song. The album opens with The Real Tuesday Weld's Clerkenwell remix of "Good Morning Blues" by Count Basie. He brings the piano of the song to the forefront while adding light electronic drums and strings to create a relaxed, somewhat dreamy mood that doesn't feel out of place. The band The Heavy remixes Louis Armstrong's "'Zat You Santa Claus?" and adds some energy with some well-placed guitar licks and horns. They fit perfectly with Armstrong's charismatic vocals.

Other remixes put wonderful but radically different spins on the songs. Billie Holiday's take on "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" is given a dub/reggae twist by production duo Yesking. Mel Torme's voice is twisted in a number of ways on the electronic remix of "The Christmas Song" by Sonny J. Despite this, the song doesn't deteriorate into a techno mess. Instead, it has a futuristic sheen that somehow works.

Producer Oh No takes Jimmy Smith's version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and turns it into an instrumental hip-hop banger. It's one of the few Christmas tracks that would sound great on a loud stereo. The Brazilian Girls give Dinah Washington's version of the normally somber "Silent Night" a surprising (and danceable) samba-influenced groove. Washington's voice is barely used here, though, so it's probably one of the more "controversial" remixes.

Not all of the remixes work well. The one in particular that really doesn't is The Orb's remix of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." "What A Wonderful World" is one of two non-Christmas tracks included on the collection (the other is Nina Simone's "Chilly Winds," remixed by Fink). The electronic elements The Orb adds to this all-time classic feel kind of slapped on. The fact that Louis Armstrong's voice is pushed to the background a bit certainly doesn't help things. It's almost as if they didn't really want to remix the song in the first place. It's by far the most disappointing track on the album.

However, the album's standout track is the amazing remix of Ella Fitzgerald's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" by Mike Mangini and Adam Pallin. They turn this relaxed, big-band song into a soaring, romantic epic. This song sneaks up on you at first but then it grows as the sweeping strings move in. This is a track that almost begs to be used in a romantic holiday movie.

If you're looking for something fun and hip to add to your holiday music collection, Verve Remixed Christmas is definitely worth your money. With a nice variety of tracks and remix approaches, this collection stands apart from other Christmas remix collections. If you're someone who is appalled at the idea of these remixes, don't worry. There is also a Verve Unmixed Christmas collection available featuring the original versions of all the tracks on Verve Remixed Christmas. Comparing the remixes to the originals would probably be a really cool thing to do at your holiday party.

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