YULE LOGBOOK: If we’re able to stave off the bugaboos of cynicism, seemingly peskier than ever at this moment in human history, December is the kindest month. It is also the most tuneful month, in a collectively synchronized way rarely achieved in the evermore fragmented cosmos of musical tastes and lifestyle choices. This time of year, the common lingua franca of Christmas music, carols, and other seasonal sounds buzzes in the air around us. If the magic works, we bask in solidarity and forestall a world in disarray.
Live-wise, it’s possible to take in yet another Nutcracker and Messiah, and still get the expected warm fuzzies. Another peripheral bonus of these annual events relates to sneaking classical culture—tastes of Tchaikovsky and Handel—into the meager cultural diets of young Americans ordinarily saturated by corporate connivance (but that’s another story). Catching the Nutcracker at the Arlington is a particularly special experience, given the symbiotic link between that loveably kitschy ballet and the theater’s loveably kitschy ’20s-era décor. It’s a fantasy-within-a-fantasy.
This year, live Christmas music options have expanded beyond the norm, including tonight’s Thursday, December 9, appearance of the all-female Mariachi Divas at the Chumash Casino. The Grammy-winning Divas are a proud part of the still relatively new phenomenon of female mariachi groups making the scene (from which we’ve caught Mariachi Reyna locally, and will hear Mariachi Mujer 2000 at the Luke Theatre on January 9, both courtesy of the admirable ¡Viva el Arte! series). Next Thursday (Dec. 16) at the Chumash Casino, Christmas goes country with the The Judds’ holiday wingding.
When Béla Fleck and the Flecktones opted to chomp on the ever-tempting carrot of a holiday album, the high-fiber, banjo-fueled fusion group was no less casual than usual. The labor-intensive Jingle All the Way from 2008 nabbed a Grammy and earned its place in the slim ranks of progressive jazz-grass Christmas jubilees. So when the Fleck-man brings his Christmas show to Campbell Hall next Friday, December 17, don’t expect to be lulled by candied yams and confections, musically speaking. Rather, the program is an ear-tingling-and-jingling parade of odd meters, abrupt shifts in arrangement and key, slaloming unison lines, and other brain-teaser stocking stuffers. For the sake of worldly sweetness, Fleck also includes mellifluous throat-singing from Tuvan group Alash.
One of my favorite S.B. Christmas events—the annual Quire of Voyces concert—takes place on the fringes, both in terms of the venue (the coolly enchanting, quasi-Euro cloister of St. Anthony’s Seminary chapel) and vintage (early music meets some contemporary vocal work). Check it out, December 18 and 19. Christmas and choral music go together, of course: The Santa Barbara Choral Society heads over the 154, to Los Olivos’s St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church this Sunday (Dec. 12) afternoon at 4. The Santa Barbara Master Chorale gets its song on Sunday night, December 12, at the Unitarian church downtown, for a fundraising, roof-raising program of carols and holiday treats.
XMAS SOUNDS IN THE ENDLESS LOOP: As for Christmas music in our fine homes, for me, amid the dizzying and seasonally expanding piles of discs (CD, vinyl, and some cassette tapes), old, personally beloved titles keep returning to the hi-fi/iTunes rotation. Among them: John Fahey’s great Christmas albums, volumes one and two (Vol. I being the true classic), NRBQ’s Christmas Wish, albums by Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, the Modern Mandolin Quartet’s Nutcracker, and Vince Guaraldi’s treasure chest from the Peanuts Christmas special. Wynton Marsalis released one of the finer jazz Christmas albums, Crescent City Christmas Card, in 1989, with smart, never-slacking arrangements. Marsalis returns to the Christmas trough this year with another tasty collection, Christmas Jazz Jam (Somerset). Marsalis, older and wiser now, again happily surrenders to the New Orleanian sway and sashay, nicely wrapping his tentet around old chestnuts and Mel Torme’s almighty, definitive jazz carol “The Christmas Song.” Here’s another spin around one of those tasty fruitcakey songs among us this month.