By Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz
Vocalist Martina DaSilva, perhaps best known as the leader of retro-current purveyors The Ladybugs, teams up with bassist Dan Chmielinski, one of wunderkind pianist Joey Alexander’s stabilizers of choice, for a set of smartly arranged, playfully virtuosic takes on holiday favorites. DaSilva delivers new wrinkles and acrobatics, working with her overdubbed self on the “Greensleeves” opener but mostly serving as the sole vocal presence, and Chmielinski, whether walking, comping, or dazzling with orchestral aplomb, fills the canvas like few bassists can. Their chemistry is exceptional and the fun they’re so obviously having is contagious.
It only takes two to make things go right here, as made clear on performances like “The Christmas Song,” a duo delight enlivened by Chmielinski’s creative grounding/bounding and a little four-to-the-bar chording, and “Last Christmas,” suggesting a different feel and flow from the Wham! model. But three feels just as fine, as made clear when a guest happens to enter the mix. Tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino fills out the harmony and adds some obbligato work and soloing to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; guitarist Gabe Schnider helps dress up the all-I-need-is-you idealism of “Diamonds and Pearls” and the João Gilberto-penned “Presente de Natal”; vibraphonist Joel Ross sets a tweaked “My Favorite Things” and a chimerical “When You Wish Upon A Star” aglow with his mallet work; and Ben Wolfe joins DaSilva and Chmielinski, his one-time mentee at Juilliard, on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” making it a two-bass hit for the holidays. A veritable cornucopia of Christmas goodies, this duo-centric and trio-friendly date provides one of the freshest takes on this material in quite some time.