Wishing you…a Canadian musical Christmas

I think it was W. C. Fields who, in a relatively mellow mood, said: "Christmas is at our throats again."Regardless of your attitude, it’s time to choose gifts for family and friends. Here are some suggestions: For some lovely vocal music, try It’s Christmas Time, by The Canadian Singers, available on either CD or cassette. This fine octet is led by its founder and music director, Harvey Patterson, who also wrote many of the arrangements.

Patterson, a veteran singer, musician, actor and director, formed the group 10 years ago. This collection includes a few traditional carols plus some original yule songs by Liona Boyd, Ralph Fraser, Gene MacClellan and Johnny Cowell. If you can’t find it in your record store, call the Canadian Singers at (416) 239-5821.

Mistletoe and brass
Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass have a new CD called Big Band Christmas, an irresistible collection of seasonal goodies on Concord Jazz. The 17 tunes range from the traditional, including Silent Night and Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, to contemporary favourites such as Have Yourself a Merry Little Cistmas and White Christmas.

McConnell’s harmonically rich charts, flawlessly executed by his stellar sidemen, manage to convey a sufficiently reverential appreciation of the material — without sacrificing the Brass’s inherent sassiness. Rob gives a number of his musicians (Guido Basso, Ed Bickert, Alex Dean) elbow room for some compelling solos, but saves himself a chunk for the Mel Torm classic Christmas Song, on which his valve trombone truly shines.

Gershwin gold
The ever-resourceful David Lennick has issued a CD of the George Gershwin Memorial Concert held at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 8, 1937, two months after the composer’s untimely death. And it’s a treasure. Among those participating were Fred Astaire, Al Jolson, Lily Pons, Oscar Levant, Gladys Swarthout, Jose Iturbi, Todd Duncan and the Hall Johnson Choir. Iturbi played Rhapsody in Blue, Pons sang Summertime and the Los Angeles Philharmonic was featured in an anthology of Gershwin’s hits.

You can purchase this memorable CD by calling Joe Radio at 1-800-563-7234. And watch for word here soon of another Lennick gem.

Thielemans’ toots
Unquestionably, Toots Theilemans is the supreme master of the jazz harmonica. The Belgian-born artist was at his best when he recorded The Brazil Project CD, a collection of a dozen Latin-tinged tunes back in 1992 and distributed by BMG.

Toots plays harmonica on all the cuts — ballads, sambas, bossa nova — all delivered with his inimitable flair and sensitivity. He is backed by a gifted group of Brazilian sidemen. There is apparently a Volume II, but I haven’t heard it yet. The CD includes the gorgeous Manha de Carnaval and ends with a swinging, nine-minute Latinized version of Toots’ signature tune, Bluesette.

If you want still more of Toots, try his newest CD, simply titled Chez Toots. It’s simply wonderful.

Nature and music
Mark down Ernest Lyons and Samuel Reid as two enterprising Canadians. They are responsible for six CDs issued by EMI under the umbrella title Sanctuary.

Lyons, Irish by birth, ventured into the countryside and woods to record sounds of nature – birds, crickets, rustling leaves, wind, running streams, waterfalls, thunder. Reid, best-known perhaps for his Juno-award- winning work with the pop group Glass Tiger, composes and records music to complement Lyons’ nature sounds. The results are fascinating and soothing.

Both men prefer living far from the "madding crowd."Even Reid’s recording studio, where the music is mixed with the sounds of nature, is well outside Toronto. The individual CDs are titled A Day Remembered, Fire From the Sky, Beneath the Greenwood, A Mantle of Green, By Celtic Waters (this one offering nature sounds recorded in Ireland) and A Breath of Spring. These should be in record stores now. If not, call EMI at (905) 677-5050.

Tamarack tunes
James Gordon, Alex Sinclair and Molly Kurvink comprise a group called Tamarack, whose most recent CD is simply titled 13 — the number of songs performed. While an earlier CD, Muskoka Calling, concentrates on songs about the Ontario region, the newer one ranges across Canada, touching on Manitoba, Saskatchewan, PEI and B.C. The Guelph-based trio get solid support from an octet of skilled sidemen. For more information on Tamarack’s records, contact SGB Productions, Box 714, Guelph, Ont. N1H 6L3.

Golden radio
The 78 RPM Years is the title of a Mart Kenney CD featuring 22 numbers played by this ever-popular band in the era of 78 RPM records. Kenney, who turns 89 next March, is still leading his smooth Western Gentlemen. You can order the CD (or cassette) by phoning 1-800-667-5664.

So — happy Christmas shopping!