The new seasonal album by Barbara Dennerlein, the Hammond B3 organist from Germany, is as colorful and playful as the wonderful cover suggests. Produced by Italian mastermind Nicola Conte (who can also be heard on guitar on two tracks), and released through the re-established MPS label, the thirteen songs on “Christmas Soul” are your common and typical festive songs, but arranged here by Magnus Lindgren in exceptionally imaginative versions.
The only German Hammond organist with international critical acclaim, Barbara is opening up to a great mix of fusion, soul and jazz on this one. Comparisons to Jimmy Smith may be permitted, as he also released a christmas album (the Creed Taylor-produced “Christmas ’64” from 1964) and Barbara’s percussive sound and bluesy technique warrant that parallel. The fat and thick production of this new collection also benefits from the tenor sax, flute, and clarinet playing of arranger Magnus, best exemplified maybe on the original “B’s X-mas Blues”, sounding like an offspring and new edition of the 60s Verve catalog.
“Little Drummer Boy” is still not one of my favorite Xmas songs, but the lazy, chilling soul version with a flute lead is more than a compensation. And “Sleigh Ride” sounds like an early 70s Marvin Gaye Motown cut; at least at the beginning. It continues the no-frills approach and is one of the highlights here. No christmas album without the obligatory vocals: Barbara is using soul singer Zara McFarlane on three tracks. She sounds best on the album opener “Christmas Time Is Here”. But not so convincing on “The Christmas Song”. And a bit stiff on “Blue Christmas”.
The band easily and breezily swings its way through “Oh Tannenbaum”, gets meditative and spiritual on “Silent Night” and funky on “Chim Chim Cherie”. And the album closes on a subdued, relaxed, almost hushed and yet percussive note: the Christmas song of all Christmas songs: “White Christmas”.
Barbara presents her “Christmas Soul” with Magnus Lindgren and drummer Robert Ikitz at Hamburg’s Mojo Club next Monday and at Berlin’s Columbia Theater next Tuesday.
Note: the Berlin concert has been cancelled!