2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (duet with James Archibald)
3. Santa Baby
4. I Wonder As I Wander
5. Santa Blues
6. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
7. Last Christmas
8. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
9. You're All I Want for Christmas
10. Dig That Crazy Santa Claus
11. The Holly and the Ivy
12. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
So I got the "Jazzy Christmas To You II" CD a while back and, at first chance, I popped it into the ol' CD player. "Jazzy Christmas To You II" opens with Charles Brown's "other" Christmas hit, "Please Come Home For Christmas". And Jillaine gives the song a fine reading, leaning toward the Jazz of the track rather than the Blues. Her approach, here, has the sound of a New Orleans after hours club. And, truthfully, that's not far from what Brown's intent was. It really became more of a roadhouse Blues number later on. My immediate thought was that Jillaine was picking up where she left off on "Jazzy Christmas To You". This was a very solid take on an oft recorded song--Jillaine did it up proud. And "solid" is very much the word I would use, here, which might seem unduly restrained on my part (as an admitted fan, at this point). But "Please Come Come For Christmas" gave me no idea what was to come.
Jillaine next shares a duet with bass player James Archibald. On the first Christmas set, the pair sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside". On this album, they do "Let It Snow". "Let It Snow" is another fun romp, to be sure, and Zach Wiggins tickles the ivories very effectively. But I'm still getting the impression that this is a continuation of the first Christmas set. Nothing wrong with that.
Next up "Santa Baby". And, no offense to anyone--I realize it's practically required these days--but that song hasn't sounded any good to me, really, since Madonna ruined it in the eighties. Honestly, I don't think there's ever been a worse rendition of a Christmas song ever than Madonna's version of "Santa Baby". William Hung laughs at her. It's not your fault, Jillaine, I just don't like the song anymore. Madonna, do me a favor and stay away from Christmas music. Notably, though, the band was very strong on this 2 minute number. Zach Wiggins (piano) and Jesse Quebbemen-Turley (drums) absolutely turn it up to 11 on "Santa Baby"...not in a Spinal Tap (volume) fashion, but in proving that they are top notch Jazz musicians in their own right when called upon to be that. The arrangements on Jillaine's first Christmas set were for a more sparse backing, which served to put Jillaine very much out front. That worked well. The arrangements here called for more...well, Jazz from the band and they delivered. Still, Jillaine's unique and powerful voice can't help but take center stage, no matter how busy the band gets. "Nobody puts Baby in a corner". That was a bit of a revelation to me (just a bit), but I still didn't see what was coming. Not even close.
Now track 4 is where things, for me, got real interesting and "Jazzy Christmas To You II" took a hard turn towards true greatness and Jillaine, from my limited perspective of her work, blossomed into the fully realized Jazz singer she's destined to be. "I Wonder As I Wander" is not just one of my favorite Christmas songs, it's a song that separates the posers from the artists. It's a song which is as much about what's not there as what is, about what you add to it, about the spaces between the notes as much as about the notes. It's a song that's much more about the passion you put into it than about the notes on the page. It's a song that, done right, can't help but be a Jazz number. Me, I'm a coward. I'd never attempt that song, even as a back bencher in a 100 person community choir. Jillaine sings "I Wonder As I Wander" as though she were born to it. I do believe, and it's a risky thing to say this sort of thing, Jillaine's version of "I Wonder As I Wander" is the single finest version I have ever heard. I've tried to think of one better--there are several I'm quite fond of--but none measure up. Jillaine's voice flows freely and easily through the song, unrestrained by the music, undaunted by the obstacles. She's not playing by their rules anymore. Jillaine becomes the song. Oh, God, I wish there was some proper metaphor to describe the bliss her vocal performance creates. What do you do when you work with words and the words fail you? All I can say is that her performance of "I Wonder As I Wander" is the very definition of the very finest Jazz. And, hey, guess what, you lucky, lucky people? This is the song Jillaine chose to make a free download.
Anyone who ever told this woman that she couldn't sing or wouldn't make it (and I'm sure there have been some) is an idiot!
Go get it! And, not to shortchange anyone, Wiggins' keyboards and Quebbemen-Turley's percussion were absolutely spot-on perfect for the song.
On "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", Jillaine demonstrates that she's as home with somber spiritual material as with bawdy Blues. Frankly, on my first trip through, I was so...well..."high" from the previous two tracks, this one just sort of slipped by me. But, on subsequent listenings, her performance of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is every bit as masterful. Even on a quieter number, the power of her passion for the music is well evident, as is the artistry of her voice. And, if you somehow missed it on that one, she demonstrates her mastery again on "Last Christmas". Frankly, I doubt I'll ever hear a better version of "Last Christmas" than the one from Linedance Fever, but Jillaine brings true heartbreak to the song in the same way Laurie Cameron exposed the underlying sadness of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)". It's so beautifully done, you'll be crying before the final curtain.
The band steps up the swing on "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" as Jillaine proves she has the chops to hang with the best of them--Frank, Ella, Tony, any of them. And it's here that the contrast between "Jazzy Christmas To You" and "Jazzy Christmas To You II" comes into very sharp focus. On last year's set, a number like this would have been done straight forward and stripped down. It would be fun, but a bit more Alt Pop or Pop Vocal than on the second album, where Jillaine and her posse dive fully into the Jazz of the piece, taking it to a whole other level. The Jazz is hot and these cats are cookin'. And they pull it all off in just 2 and a half minutes. Steam heat, baby!
Then Jillaine dips into her bag of tricks once more, pulling out a relatively obscure number from Seger Ellis, popularized by Bing Crosby, "You're All I Want For Christmas". And, while it's not really really obscure, it's something you never hear on the radio anymore. Ever. Jillaine's approach to this torch song is more Billie than Bing, and, damn, that's impressive.
"Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" surprises yet again. Most artists covering Oscar McLollie's R&B classic focus either on the rhythm or focus on the Blues. I was kind of expecting Jillaine to take the Blues route. Instead, she and the band do the track straight Jazz. And, as straight Jazz, it's great Jazz. Jillaine's facility on this swinging take is just amazing. The confidence and skill is fully on display. Actually, having just said "confidence and skill", the two words I thought of listening to this track were "passion and precision". That's a heady combo. And speaking of heady combos, the band shines, here, once again. In particular, I thought James Archibald's bass was especially awesome.
For the last two numbers, "The Holly And The Ivy" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night", Jillaine slows the pace and keeps it simple. And, if you hadn't figured it out before these two, Jillaine closes out the album proving that she is a truly great Jazz singer. I would never say it's easy to do what Jillaine does on the previous 10 tracks. But it takes a real artist to do even more by doing even less. About the only way I can explain that remark is to point to Judy Garland, who also excelled at making her voice do amazing things on both the quiet and the raucous. If you don't think of Judy as a great Jazz singer, you should. I'm not even a fan of Judy's, but I do appreciate her artistry.
Look, I'm no Leonard Feather or Dave Marsh or anything. I'm just a guy with a blog. But I'll tell you this as sincerely as I can. "Jazzy Christmas To You" was an excellent Christmas album. "Jazzy Christmas To You II" is a great Jazz album. I've listened to a lot of music in my day and I will tell you that there are not more than a handful of singers who can do what Jillaine can do. There may not have ever been more than, I don't know, a couple of dozen singers in history who could do what Jillaine can do. And I know that sounds hyperbolic, but, Bessie Smith, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Joe Williams, Frank--well, nobody is as good as Sinatra was (and that's just a fact, Jack)--Jillaine can hold her own in that company. Power, passion, precision, confidence, vulnerability...she's got it all. She's got a voice and she knows how to use it. Her voice is an instrument that she plays as well as Miles played trumpet. Yeah, feel free to be skeptical. I would be, too. If I hadn't heard it with my own ears.
I was about to give a nod to Erik Chaston, Jillaine's brother who (as I recall) produced "Jazzy Christmas To You" (although I could be wrong about that) and I see, here, that Jillaine gets the production credit for "Jazzy Christmas To You II". And, now, I'm even more amazed than I already was.
I can't recommend "Jazzy Christmas To You II" highly enough. I really can't. On a scale of 1 to 10, this album's an easy 14 or 15. It's that good. Keep singing, Jillaine. It's what you were born to do.