Part of pianist Mark Flugge’s legacy was his Chamber Jazz Series of concerts held at the Columbus Firehouse and the Columbus Museum of Art, and the series included a handful of memorable holiday concerts. Just in time for the holidays, the Mark Flugge Memorial Fund recently released A Chamber Jazz Christmas: Mark Flugge Remembered, a collection of Christmas tunes mostly drawn from Chamber Jazz shows at the Columbus Museum of Art between 2007 and 2011. Flugge is joined in quartets by performers including Derek DiCenzo, Chris Berg, Joe Ong, Dave DeWitt, and Dave Weinstock. The album is now available here in CD and digital formats from CDBaby. Keep reading for my thoughts on the album, which functions well as a locally-minded Christmas gift, but even better as a seasonal snapshot of the virtuosic talents of one of Columbus’ finest musicians.
One of the most striking qualities of A Chamber Jazz Christmas is the breadth of material, styles, and moods covered in its 13 tracks, all arranged by Flugge. The quartet versions range from relatively straightforward interpretations to sometimes surprising arrangements, but all are imbued with Flugge’s warm and inventive vision and technique. “Rudolph in Havana” kicks off the album with Flugge playing Cuban patterns over spirited percussion from Ong before DiCenzo’s melody and solo on the guitar add some Christmas rock flavors to Rudolph’s flight. Next are two Vince Guaraldi tunes from A Charlie Brown Christmas: The subdued “My Little Drum” is guided by Flugge’s effortlessly expressive melody and solos and features subtly cheery steel drums from DiCenzo, while “Linus and Lucy” charges forward with Flugge’s two-handed agility before slipping into a sleek jazz groove. “What Child Is This” is the only live solo piano piece on the album, and is a thrilling seven-minute voyage through classical and jazz styles.
“Jingle Bells” here pulses with a New Orleans stomp courtesy of the rhythm section of DeWitt and Weinstock, and Flugge and DiCenzo jam in the forefront. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is arranged in the style of a particular famous cool jazz standard with a unique time signature, and the result is a supremely classy treat, with inspired solos by Flugge, DiCenzo (on guitar) and Ong (on drums). Flugge gives “Blue Christmas” a treatment that feels heavy and light at the same time, as there is a sticky blues feel but Flugge and company approach their parts with finesse. “Sleigh Ride in July,” one of two solo piano outtakes compiled here, is a jolly stroll with a contemplative side. Flugge teases with holiday standard “Here Comes Santa Claus” before the quartet sets into a gentle swing that showcases the entire ensemble. After a passionate take on “The First Noel,” the collection comes full circle with “Rudolph,” where Flugge this time has arranged the classic using the changes of a soul jazz classic, and the band is ready for the friendly groove!
A Chamber Jazz Christmas: Mark Flugge Remembered is highly recommended, for those looking for a new twist on holiday tunes, piano jazz fans, and all who appreciate standards artfully reimagined by top-notch musicians. Stay tuned and visit markflugge.com for details on the next Flugge Memorial Concert on June 4th, 2017, as well as purchase info for previous albums.