Pianist Ted Rosenthal doesn’t pair “winter” with “wonderland,” preferring the latter, single word to resonate on its own. You don’t have to wait for Christmas or New Year’s (there’s little material here to suggest Chanukah) to enjoy this festive CD. And while it’s suffused with Rosenthal’s experience and personality, it’s very much a trio effort.
Rosenthal’s “derangements” of holiday classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “Greensleeves” and “Silent Night” speak to his expressiveness, authority and daring. “Greensleeves” becomes a fluid waltz, Rosenthal’s chording providing a brooding setting for Noriko Ueda’s resonant solo and Tim Horner’s deep-background drums. In Rosenthal’s sensitive hands, “Silent Night” presents an unusually rich soundscape as he works the tune to unexpected emotional depths; his minor chords lend a fresh eccentricity to the chestnut.
Rosenthal injects the blues into “Winter Wonderland” and a faintly Monkish “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” that also evokes Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas”; treats “Angels We Have Heard on High” breakneck, partially thanks to Horner’s brushwork; delicately Garnerizes “Let It Snow”; and frosts Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” from the “Nutcracker Suite,” with Latin rhythms. There’s humor, too; Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” featuring Ueda’s spare bass and Horner’s feathery ride cymbal, is arch and entertaining-and, Rosenthal says in the liner notes, a nod to Ahmad Jamal.
There are influences and homages here, but Rosenthal has his own attitude and approach: direct, respectful, and sparkling. And no matter how familiar the material, this trio (check out Ueda’s querulous commentary on “Let It Snow,” for example) treats it afresh, making for an album that’s equally accessible and adventurous.
Rosenthal caps this with his own “Snowscape,” an introspective tune that starts slowly and minimally, becomes a spirited, rubato-heavy improvisation marked by resonant octaves, then circles back to its simple, lovely theme. A fine way to end an album that demands repeated listening and an open fire.