Kirk Whalum – The Christmas Message

For his first Christmas album, saxophonist Kirk Whalum’s stated intent is an “unabashed celebration” of his Christian faith. “The Christmas message is for anyone and everyone,” he writes. “Jew, gentile, man, woman, boy, girl. It is a message of hope.” Framed by arrangements that bespeak Whalum’s deep background in gospel, Stax-style soul, smooth jazz, and contemporary pop (he’s backed Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Mariah Carey, George Benson, Babyface, and Take 6), the 43-year-old Memphis native preaches his message on 12 traditional Christmas hymns, a Swedish folk song, and an original by Whalum’s partner, vocalist-keyboardist John Stoddart. On his previous release, Hymns in the Garden, Whalum, the son of a preacher, sang melodic praise solely through his horns; here the voices, sparely deployed — brother Kevin Whalum lays down a Bobby McFerrin bass line on “The Little (Ghetto) Drummer Boy,” and Cyndee Peters sings “Blott en Dag” with pure tone and unornamented simplicity — complement his rich, rounded, luscious saxophone voice, which always seems to be holding something in reserve. Whalum is a virtuoso (hear him stretch out on tenor “Little Town of Bethlehem,” while he evokes true soulfulness on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” a soprano-piano duo) for whom communication is a prime imperative, and The Christmas Message is a consequential document.





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