A wildly talented composer and multi-instrumentalist who’s made his greatest impact in the competitive and lucrative gaming market, Richard Williams has been saving up a long time to bless us with Hollywood Christmas, one of the most generous traditional jazzy, big band and orchestral holiday gifts ever.
With his interest in recording sparked by a master class with legendary arranger Chris Walden, and inspired by the classic holiday albums of The Carpenters and Michael Buble, Williams hung the tinsel, drew on his childhood passions and went big and bold as if he were creating the score to the ultimate seasonal video game, only warmer, more swinging and intimate.
When you look at the CD packaging or streaming set list, it lists a whopping 40 tracks – in part because he inserts some clever medleys with each part under one minute between the faithful renditions of secular classics we can sing by heart (“It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “The Holiday Season,” “White Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”). But it's mostly due to the very insightful idea of giving listeners the option to experience each hand selected classic as a vocal or equally compelling instrumental version. A few self-composed interludes and another by John Williams (“Somewhere in My Memory”) add splendid touches.
While leading on piano with the core trio of Trey Henry (bass) and Bernie Dresel (drums), Williams masterminds the sessions as if Quincy Jones were visiting the North Pole, assembling some of L.A.’s top horn cats (including Eric Marienthal, Brandon Fields, Sal Lozano and Wayne Bergeron) to create a big band sound behind an array of outstanding lead vocalists (and a Utah based trio named Company B) that we simply need to hear more of.
Best among these, and most artfully capturing the lighthearted traditional vibe Williams aimed for, are Alex Stiles (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “The Christmas Song”), Nate Bryant (“Happy Holiday”), Rebecca Lopez (“White Christmas”), Taylor Miranda (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”) and Russian singer Dmitry Noskov (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), whom Williams discovered online.
The 75 minute session is so joyful and action packed, you can literally leave it on repeat at your holiday gatherings and leave Andy, Johnny Bing, Frank, Buble, Mariah and Karen Carpenter on the shelf without skipping a beat. If there’s such a thing as an instant holiday classic, it’s Hollywood Christmas.