Southern California-based jazz chanteuse Amber Weekes has a truly gorgeous voice: warm, soulful and laden with poignant inflection. When she sings a ballad, she always sounds like every word is heartfelt. Although she’s splendidly showcased on her debut Christmas album, The Gathering, only half of its 10 tracks can be considered jazz. The rest are more accurately described as pop/spirituals, due mostly to producer Mark Cargill’s abundance of backing strings.
That said, the peppier numbers are a lot of fun; Weekes concludes many with playful, spoken-word “tags” that add a bit of mischief. The album highlight is an up-temp reading of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which swings like crazy and features solid solos by Ricky Woodard (sax) and Tony Capodonico (piano). The larkish, mid-tempo handling of “Winter Wonderland” is equally fun, thanks to Kevin Brandon’s bass licks and more tasty piano/sax from Woodard and Capodonico.
Drummer Fritz Wise lays down a heavy 4/4 beat for a bluesy reading of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” with Weekes’ mildly sassy delivery making her sound quite eager for that upcoming evening; Jacques Lesure delivers a solid guitar solo at the bridge. Wise and bassist Adam Cohen turn “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” into a gentle bossa nova, with Weekes putting wistful angst into every word.
Andrew Carney’s soft, muted trumpet trades licks with Kevin Brandon’s bass on a swinging reading of “Let It Snow,” which Weekes turns into a teasing invitation for a snowball fight; Capodonico and Carney trade brief (but tasty!) solos at the bridge.
The album concludes with a Cargill/Weekes/Gregory Cook original, which gives this album its title; unlike far too many modern efforts at new Christmas songs, this one is a captivating earworm that has a solid shot at becoming a holiday standard.