In 2011, flush with the recent critical acclaim for and commercial success of his jazz trio and orchestra driven album Blue Bolero and its #1 Billboard hit single “Bossa Blue,” guitarist Chris Standring offered something equally outside the box for the holidays – Send Me Some Snow, a Christmas themed collection featuring all-originals performed as vintage pop styled duets with award winning pop folk singer-songwriter Kathrin Shorr.
As bold and refreshing (and truly revolutionary for smooth jazz) as this album was, over the years since – as he’s continued dominating the radio charts, most recently with songs from his 2022 album Simple Things – many folks have asked him to record an album of non-original holiday songs. He’s met the challenge warmly and beautifully on his latest set Silent Night, creating an instant instrumental classic via a hypnotic swirl of sparkling melodic and easy grooving energy, cool soulful swing, sensual atmospheres, and most of all a jazzy sense of reverence. Vibing gracefully and intuitively with upright bassists Kevin Axt and John Leftwich and drummer Dave Karasony, Standring creates something of the ultimate imaginative jazz trio album.
Though its release follows quick on the heels of Simple Things – which featured the #1 hit “Change the World” – in tone, sonic aesthetic and sweetly nostalgic musical vision, Silent Night feels like the holiday complement (sans orchestra) to his 2021 standards album Wonderful World. Back in 2011, in explaining his desire to create a holiday album of all originals, Standring said, “I had been pondering the idea of recording a Christmas album for a number of years, but the thought of recording yet another version of ‘Jingle Bells’ didn’t inspire me in the least.”
Not surprisingly then, even though he’s putting his unique stylistic twists and dynamic guitar tones on a batch of sacred and secular songs we’ve heard countless thousands of times by hundreds of artists before (from “Deck the Halls” and “The Christmas Song” to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “White Christmas”), he left “Jingle Bells” off list. Yet considering the hipster strutting sway he and his trio bring to “The Christmas Song” and “Winter Wonderland,” the plucky easy grooving seduction of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” his bluesy mid-tempo breeze through “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and tender meditational flow he brings to “Silent Night,” there’s no doubt he could have rocked (or jazzed) “Jingle Bells” and made it worth a spin.
Besides the stellar performances and fresh arrangements, what you hear on Silent Night is an artist with great confidence. Perhaps in 2011, Standring didn’t feel he could bring enough invention to these types of timeless songs to make them worth dedicating an album to. But now, especially after Wonderful World, we can confidently declare this was the holiday album he was always destined to make. Both trad and contemporary/smooth jazz fans will want to add it to their holiday playlists for years to come.