At this point in the holiday season, a song like Winter Wonderland offers little by way of invention or spontaneity. Yet on a cold, iron gray Sunday afternoon, the Lexington Brass Band, under the direction of Ronald Holz, found all kinds of ways to revitalize the tune. With the ensemble operating with the fluid efficiency and unity of a jazz orchestra and guests Wycliffe Gordon, Zach Brock and the Raleigh Dailey Trio keeping the groove, the song was given a fresh makeover. The resulting music, the only instance in this holiday concert where the entire company of musicians played together, made for a distinctive and high appealing serving of cool Yule.
The remainder of the 80 minute performance at the Calvary Baptist Church, aptly titled ‘Tis the Season, broke the players into subgroups.
A Stephen Bulla arrangement of Angels We Have Heard on High (retitled in the program as simply Angels on High) let the LBB’s subtle orchestration serve as support for New York-turned-Lexington trombonist Gordon, who blended processional-like elegance and precision with a bit of boppish fancy. Later, Gordon played alongside the LBB’s five-member trombone section and a pair of percussionists for a version of Jingle Bells rich in playful growls and assorted sass that emphasized the more animated sides of the soloist’s performance profile.
Violinist Brock, a Lexington native now working out of Brooklyn, teamed with the LBB to play O Holy Night with scholarly clarity and agility. But it was on Harold Burgmayer’s arrangement of John Jacob Niles’ I Wonder As I Wander that the more dramatic colors of his playing and the LBB’s stately orchestration best complemented each other.
The LBB sat out two abbreviated sections where Gordon, Brock and the Dailey trio played on their own as a quintet. Again, the range and dynamics that emerged were considerable. The extremes ran from the performance’s only non-holiday entry – a quiet but powerfully emotive version of Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom that highlighted the buoyant tone of each soloist, especially Brock – and an untitled blues jam where Gordon loosened up on makeshift vocals and cartoon-like solo bursts full of equally fun, vocal-esque expression.