Chilly Gonzales presents lounge piano variations on a flurry of Christmas favourites – with a twist!
Release Date: 13th November 2020
Label: Gentle Threat/Fontana North
Formats: CD, Digital, LP
Although it’s still just mid-November, At The Barrier detects that the flurry of Christmas product that has hitherto crossed our threshold is starting to turn into a blizzard. If the rest turn out to be as much fun as this seasonal offering from Chilly Gonzales, then Let Them Snow, Let Them Snow, Let Them Snow…
Chilly Gonzales describes himself as: “Composer, showman in slippers and bathrobe.” Actually, he’s Jason Charles Beck, a native of Montreal, Canada and an accomplished classical pianist, albeit with a strong feel for all strands of popular music. A Grammy winner, he’s the proprietor of his own music school, The Gonzervatory. His past collaborators include Peaches, Daft Punk, Drake and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and for this latest offering, he’s enlisted the assistance of Feist and Jarvis Cocker.
A Very Chilly Christmas is a remarkable album. It’s a collection of 16 Christmas tunes, the titles of 15 of which will be familiar but the presentation of which will be surprising, fascinating, enlivening and occasionally highly amusing to all. For a start, the songs, even such traditionally ‘jolly’ selections such as Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You are all delivered in a minor key and slow tempo. The vast majority are solo piano pieces (although the cello contributions of Stella Le Page on several tracks add extra warmth and depth to an album that already copiously claims those qualities) and when Jarvis or Feist add their vocal contributions, the quirkiness is complete.
It all adds up to an album that can be enjoyed on at least three levels. Either as a straight and highly tasteful rendering of a set of Christmas tunes that would provide the perfect soundtrack to a quiet Christmas night by the fireside, mulled wine in hand; a curio that challenges the listener to wonder whether Chilly is having a good laugh at our expense, or as an enjoyable exploration of the musical possibilities offered by such familiar tunes. It’s not an album for the raucous party (perhaps a good thing, in a year when such things will be a distinct rarity) but it’s certainly a wonderful accompaniment to mellow, wine-assisted Christmas reverie. And, despite the concept and the contents, cheesiness is deftly and definitely avoided!
Nearly all the tunes are either traditional Christmas fare. Carols such as Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (to give just a few examples), Christmas standards such as Jingle Bells and Xmas Kiss, or covers latter day popular hits – Snow Is Falling In Manhattan and the aforementioned Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas is You. The only exception is the original composition The Banister Bough; a beautiful (if excessively sweetened) duet with long-time collaborator Feist, who delivers her vocal part with both frailty and commitment that successfully captures and bottles the Christmas vibe.
There’s no risk of over-familiarity or complacency here. Every tune is given an interesting twist. Silver Bells is an improvisation built around The First Noel, Jingle Bells is barely recognizable and conjures an image of Santa, Rudolf et al completely knackered after a long night of descending and scaling chimneys. All I Want For Christmas Is You is short, sweet and not Mariah Carey and We Three Kings is laced with piano exploration, exquisite cello and a delightful chorus of voices. Jarvis Cocker adds sinister, whispered vocals to In The Bleak Midwinter and Xmas Kiss and both he and Feist unite turn Purple Mountains’ Snow is Falling in Manhattan upside down.
If you’ve a taste for the quirky, if you want a tasteful yet very Christmassy soundtrack to your festive holiday or if you’re just curious, you’ll love A Very Chilly Christmas from Chilly Gonzales. Check it out.
Watch the official promotional video for the album here: