HomeRecording Review: Cluster's "Christmas Present"

Sapphire0610's picture

Cluster’s new Christmas album, Christmas Present, is top notch.  I say this not only because the tuning is perfect and the mixing is solid and all those other musical comments, but because the first time I listened to this (back in early November), it got me really excited about Christmas time rolling around. A little background about me—I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas or Christmas music.  Now, I’m not a Grinch, but I’m also not Santa Claus.  The fact that this album was able to get me to look forward to Christmas is a miracle.  So even if you’re like me and don’t like Christmas, this album is still worth buying.

Cluster is a 5-person mixed jazz group hailing all the way from Italy.  If you’ve been reading CASA reviews for awhile, you’ll have read my review on Cluster’s last album.  Just like I loved them before, I love them again.  I think this time around I really figured out exactly why I love Cluster.  Christmas songs are classic.  Everyone knows the tunes and everyone sings along when they’re played.  The trouble with Christmas albums is that people try to mess with the originals too much.  In some tracks, Cluster let them be classic.  But in some, the group found a way to mix their jazzy soul in with these old school tunes.  They really brought a new life to Christmas music.  Cluster just has such creative minds behind the wheel, it blows me away.

In “Jingle Bells”, the backing vocals are doing these absolutely killer trumpets.  The chord structure throughout the song puts a total jazz flare to the whole thing.  Then they take a dramatic turn and start rocking out half-time.  While I was listening to the last half of this song, it reminded me of a family standing around the fire place on Christmas morning singing Christmas carols and having a blast doing it.  There was just such a warm and fuzzy feeling coming through the full chords and fun solo.  They also found a way to mix “Adeste Fideles” with hip-hop.  It was a little bit out there for a Christmas album, but I really enjoyed it.  They gave it a heavy bass line and a cool and groovin’ beat from the VP.  A heart-felt solo delivery was able to really bring it back for me and remind me that this is a Christmas song.  Some might not necessarily enjoy this original twist on a classic, but I totally dug it.

While there were some great moments on this album, there were just a few that didn’t really resonate with me.  “Away in a Manger” started out classic and gorgeous, but about half way through, this crazy guitar solo came out of nowhere.  Now, this guitar solo was of epic proportions—I mean, it was rocking…but I didn’t really understand the placement.  I didn’t understand where it fit in the song.  There was also a moment in “Silent Night” where the soloist really began to stray from the original, and to me “Silent Night” is the one Christmas tune that I think is perfect the way it is.  But then they picked it back up by singing the last part of it in Italian with the original melody and harmonies (which was absolutely gorgeous).

My favorite track on the album is probably “My Christmas Tree”.  It isn’t the most exciting on the album.  And it isn’t the most creative or innovative.  But it is the most classically beautiful.  It is the most Christmas-y.  It’s a stripped arrangement with few to no effects put on during mixing.  This is the track that got me excited about Christmas.  Listening to this song, I just wanted to go visit my parents and hang out around our Christmas tree drinking eggnog.  And that’s really what Christmas is about, isn’t it?  Spending time with those you love?

Cluster yet again found their way into my heart with Christmas Present.  I think that good Christmas CDs are few and far between, and this is the best one I’ve heard in quite some time.  I recommend it to anyone—no matter how old or how young or if you’re an a cappella person or not.  It’s an all-around great album and I promise you’ll want to listen to some of the songs even after Christmas is over.


About the author:
Jill Clark has been involved in music since age 5, singing, playing guitar, drums and piano. She is a member of UNC-G Sapphires, who were the 1st place competition winners at SoJam 2008. Clark also won Best Vocal Percussion at SoJam '07 and '08 for VP within the group.


Sounds like we felt very

Sounds like we felt very similarly about the album, Jill.

For another couple views on this album: http://www.mouthoffshow.com/2009/12/mouth-off-12-20-09/

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

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