"St. Nick in Shades 2" Review-A Great Trio at The City Winery

On the Sunday before Christmas, December 18th, 2016, to ring in the holiday season, The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players, in the persons of Jeremy Kahn, pianist, Cheryl Wilson, vocalist, and Jim Gailloreto, woodwinds gave a splendid concert at The City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. Called “St. Nick in Shades II”, a reprise and extension of last year’s initial event, it featured a repertoire of Christmas standards as well as less well known seasonal choices, all with delightfully new jazzy arrangements. There was a lot of swing and a lot of soul.

Jeremy Kahn, Cheryl Wilson and Jim Gailloreto; photo courtesy of The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players

Jeremy Kahn, who has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, Max Roach and Joni Mitchell, to name but a few of his artistic collaborators, and in numerous Broadway shows, as well as boasting a prolific discography, is an outstanding and very busy pianist. He is a lecturer on the jazz studies faculty of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, focusing on piano and improvisation, something of a lost art in classical music, and one he exhibited with aplomb and wit at the concert, escaping into effortless riffs including a bit of Hebrew dance music.

 

Both woodwind master Jim Gailloreto and vocalist-violist Cheryl Wilson are stars in the acclaimed Jazz String Quintet; he wailed on saxophone and flute and she was vocalist supreme for this concert. He has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and she plays the viola for the Chicago Philharmonic, dividing her time 60-40 between singing and playing. Jim has recorded with Patricia Barber as well as with Jeremy Kahn, among others, and teaches at Chicago College of The Performing Arts, Roosevelt University. He also plays with Fulcrum Point New Music Project and in the pit with Broadway in Chicago. Cheryl has recorded and/or performed with Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Seal, etc, is internationally known, and teaches voice and jazz at the Chicago Conservatory of Performing Arts and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cherl Wilson; photo by Jim Hoffman

In other words, a universe of powerhouse talent collaborated on and arranged this concert, which opened with a vibrant and sensual rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, 1942; Bing Crosby’s version is the best-selling single of all time, and has proven to the world that a Jewish man could compose a commercially successful secular Christmas piece. The trio performed it here with just the right touch of heart-wrenching melancholy coupled with comforting images of home- symbolized both by America and by hearth. It was a tear-inducer!

There followed:

-“The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme and Bob Wells, 1945, colloquially known as “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire”. It’s a very much-loved seasonal song perhaps best appreciated in its familiar Nat King Cole stereo recording from 1961. This classic Christmas tune was beautifully sung in a throaty, sultry fashion by Wilson, with lovely R and B touches on the piano and sax.

 

-“Mary Did You Know” by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry, 1991, originally recorded as a Christian piece, subsequently recorded by many others. Here it had a distinctly country-jazz-bluegrass feel.

The trio at The City Winery; photo by Jim Hoffman

 -“Oh Holy Night” by Adolphe Adams, Placide Cappeau and John Sullivan Dwight, 1845, 1855. It’s a Christmas carol premiered by an opera singer and Wilson’s voice was more than up to it. The musicians really shone in this one, Gailloreto in particular swinging on the sax, all 3 releasing a majestic and spiritual outpouring.

 

 -Mariah Carey and Walter Afansieff’s 1994 hit “All I want for Christmas is You”, an uptempo love song, once called “one of the few worthy additions to the holiday canon;” it’s the 11th best-selling single of all time. The song has been described as “composed with rhythmic adult contemporary influences and stylings”. As performed at this concert, it had a bluesy, soulful, gospel sense.

 

 -“I’ll be home for Christmas”, written by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram, recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. It sounded sexy and sentimental, the instruments and voice both drawling out the notes in an almost unbearably moving way. At one point, Kahn sounded like he was playing lines from “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.

 

 -“Silent Night”, by Franz Xaver Gruber and James Mohr, 1818; the popular carol was declared “an intangible cultural heritage” by Unesco in 2011, and it wouldn’t seem like Christmas without it. Kahn did a piano riff during this piece that almost sounded like salsa music, and Wilson’s compelling sounds could’ve made the angels weep.

 

 -“Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson, 1963; often recorded by other country stars, this is a touching and compelling tale of a street vendor who hawks pencils and paper during the holidays. The trio gave the audience a thrilling version, subtle and exciting.

Jeremy Kahn at The City Winery; photo by Jim Hoffman

 -“This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway, 1970, a tune celebrating the possibilities of good clean fun and happy expectations. It had a modern, almost pop-jazz sensibility, with absolutely clear and upbeat playing by these superlative musicians. Wilson’s voice has a remarkable range, sounding like Southern comfort laced with honey.

 

-“People Make The World Go Around” by Linda Creed and Thom Bell, most famously released by The Stylistics, 1972; this is a thoughtful, spiritually based song which the musicians gave a mature symphonic arrangement, and Wilson added falsetto funk. The vocals are restrained and sad- a beautiful and socially conscious tune.

 

 As a whole, the concert was nostalgically  very satisfying. The playing and phrasing were strong and controlled, intricate and expressively intense; the audience smiled often and applauded long.

Rocking at The City Winery; photo by Jim Hoffman

This reviewer had the opportunity to interview Gailloreto and Wilson after the concert. They were charming and accessible; like the long-time colleagues they are, they spoke fondly and easily, over and around each other’s remarks.

 

“Cheryl did the arranging”, offered Gailloreto. “They are loose arrangements”, she noted, “Anything can happen”. “More than half is improvisational”, he said. She added, “Improvising uses a different part of your brain”. “The songs are not just old standards”, he said. She added, “There is some obscure Christmas music, as well.”

In a remark notable for it’s understatement, he observed, “There is a chemistry the three of us have”. In a thoughtful and bemused way, with Gailloreto nodding knowingly, Wilson shared that one audience member had approached her after the concert and told her, “I felt stuff today that I have not felt in 10 years”. And this from an audience filled with musicians!

Jim Gailloreto; photo by Jim Hoffman

 For other great concerts by The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players, go to Chicago Philharmonic website

 

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