In my review (sparkling, naturally) of the Rob Mullins Trio’s 2018 album, I marveled at the way he so seamlessly integrated swinging arrangements of “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland” amidst a lengthy, otherwise-non-Christmassy set. Before explaining the cool story behind their inclusion, I wrote, “Mullins may be the first artist in jazz history to so casually and perfectly place secular holiday tunes alongside songs we can listen to the other 11 months of the year.”
A year on, these two lively, anti “bah humbug” tracks featuring his snappy hipster trio of Will Lyle (upright bass) and Nikko Salvador (drums) find a fresh (and for purists, more appropriate) home on the keyboardist’s engaging, stylistically and rhythmically eclectic Holiday Piano Collection. They lay the foundation for a set contrasting the beautiful melodies of familiar tunes with colorful and unexpected sonic surprises.
The rest of this collection - truly embodying the concept of "Christmas Carols with a twist" - finds Mullins playing all the instruments like he did in his Soulscape and Storyteller days in the 2000s. Inspired by the discovery in his recording/teaching studio of an old book of carols that his mother played at church when he was growing up, the set includes a buoyant and funky, synth horn-fired romp of “Joy to the World,”; a gracefully restrained, classical-inspired “Deck the Halls” that includes a brief lush vocal choir section and elegant improvisations; and a stirring medley of “Silver Bells/Silent Night” that eases from gospel uplift to a mid-tempo, soulfully meditative “Silent Night.”
Calling the album a “piano collection” is only partly accurate, however, because Mullins works tonal wonders with different lead keyboard sounds and moods - Fender Rhodes is his go-to vibe - on tracks like the moody and hypnotic, old school soul-jazz flavored “Angels We Have Heard on High,” a trippy, mystical jazz rubato/free time ballad arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and a spaced out, ambient new age twist on “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Mullins also includes a fresh remix of his easy flowing elegant funk ballad “A Winter Wish,” originally released as a standalone single.
Mullins’ stated intention with his Holiday Piano Collection is to help us “stay positive, be joyful and focus on the fun and high- spirited times” instead of all the daily negativity coming our way. To that end, I suggest we listen to this masterful collection long after New Year’s – preferably, throughout the year!
Check out the album on Apple Music:
Or purchase it at Amazon: