When we think of Christmas, sometimes it’s the sights that come to mind: the multi-colored lights framing the windows of neighbors’ houses, the line of eager children waiting to sit on Santa’s lap, the Nativity scene on the lawn at the local church. Or maybe it’s the smells that arise first: fresh-baked gingerbread, pine needles, a turkey dinner in the oven.
On his new album for Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, GRAMMY® Award-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum asks How Does Christmas Sound? On his second holiday-themed album, Whalum doesn’t answer that question in the expected way – revisiting the most familiar carols, the ones that have already worn out their welcome most years by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. Instead, he finds a more spiritual, introspective sound for Christmas, one that acknowledges the melancholy that often accompanies the Yuletide and the faith that is so central to his own celebrations.
“You can talk about the sights and the smells, but to me it’s always a sound that takes me to the true meaning of Christmas,” Whalum explains. “Even in April, I will put on Nat King Cole’s Christmas record and it brings me peace.”
The second track is perhaps the album’s most unexpected, a forlorn treatment of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” which has become the iconic Christmas song of its generation. Whalum’s reverently slow version becomes a song of faith, directed to the saxophonist’s savior rather than a Yuletide lover.
More than just another merry round of caroling, How Does Christmas Sound? is Whalum’s attempt at offering a moment of soul-searching for Christmas revelers and a balm for those whose holidays don’t shine as brightly.