While for sheer contemporary jazz holiday cheer, no artist can quite match the prolific output of Dave Koz (now up to eight albums) and Kenny G (seven including compilations), Rob Mullins is actually getting pretty close. Starting with 2005’s Winter Dreams, a solo piano set of mostly originals inspired by the season, and on through his dynamically, sonically surreal, electronic synth driven new EP Holidays 2022, the multi-faceted composer/keyboardist is up to six Christmas themed releases.
Actually, it’s seven if we include The Nearness of You, his 2018 set that included three familiar Christmas tunes among 12 non-holiday originals. Something about the guy who offered him studio time to record the album insisting that Mullins include a some Yuletide joy as part of the deal.
Besides their innate charm and always fresh arrangements that make his renditions unique from the countless other versions we’ve heard of these literal chestnuts, one of the greatest pleasures of Mullins’ musical stocking stuffers is the variety of instrumentation he brings from project to project. Case in point: Jazzy Holiday (2013) is a live trio album with vocalist Hazel Miller, while Holiday Piano Collection (2019) – a set of new music and popular re-releases – includes artful synth elements but is mostly retro-keyboard and acoustic piano based.
Mullins reprises his Christmas/non-Christmas tracking on Holidays 2022, which features fanciful renditions of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” alongside a seasonal original (“Comfort and Joy”), an uplifting. inspirational mid-tempo funk gem (“The Higher We Go”) and the true heart and soul of the set, “Sail On,” a graceful, reflective ballad dedicated to and inspired by Mullins’ recently departed father featuring a wistful flute melody caressed by lush, gentle atmospheres.
Sonically, the EP feels both adventurously playful and a bit experimental – and with good reason. Mullins says that he had spent about a year learning a lot of new musical tools and was anxious to use them in a fresh way on this project. At least as far as the three traditional pieces go, Holidays 2022 is meant to be a modern musical look at how old songs can be approached in a new way while still retaining their jolly old spirit.
“Hark…” perfectly captures this aesthetic, starting out with synth effects ringing out behind a sweet piano ballad rendering before the groove picks up a Mullins all at once introduces a crunchy hip-hop vibe with wild ivory improvisations. The playful piano and soaring synth atmospheres in the second part of this track are on par with any grand holiday track Mannheim Steamroller has ever recorded. “God Rest Ye…” starts out with a stately solo piano presentation of the basic melody before he fires up the hypnotic electronic funk percussion and tackles the same melody, a little jazzier, but with an airy synth flavor. Then, with intensifying rhythms, he chimes in with heavier jazz piano chords and a moment of transcendent orchestration. His textured, super atmospheric synth approach to “Carol of the Bells” is slightly more traditional, but in keeping it dreamier and closer to the vest, Mullins creates a true Christmas chill classic.
Mullins’ sonic invention extends to “Comfort and Joy,” which features swirling spacey elements, an infectious crunch groove, emphatic piano chords and an elegant, soaring synth melody. “The Higher We Go” is the heartfelt, optimistic song we all deserve after going through the collective anxiety of the pandemic era. It’s picture perfect, light funk smooth jazz, with an charming and buoyant piano melody, a soulful, seductive laid back groove and free-flowing ambience.
Mullins says, “The holidays have always been a bitter sweet time for me and many friends and fans. While they can bring families together, they can also put pressure on everything. Sometimes just the right music in the background can heal old wounds, rectify disputes and put everyone in a good mood.” On this album, in addition to the holiday specific fare, “The Higher We Go” is the perfect soundtrack to contemplating new ways forward and seeing the Christmas light at the end of the tunnel even into January.
And when we consider the inspiration behind “Sail On,” not enough can be said about the sheer beauty and sensitivity about this homage to Mullins’ father, which no doubt many people experiencing the aging and loss of their parents (or any loved ones) will be inclined to adopt as soothing source of hope and healing as well. Overall, like his many other Christmas and Christmassy recordings, Holidays 2022 is worth celebrating on many fronts.
Listen to the full album here: https://linktr.ee/robmullins