7 SHADES OF SNOW
CD and digital album
Another winter, another June. For her new Christmas release, jazz-wise June Bisantz, who previously recorded two volumes addressing Chet Baker’s songbook, takes on another performer from the last century. This time, with 7 Shades of Snow, she turns her attention to a namesake—June Christy (1925-1990), the appealingly smoky-voiced lady who went from big band vocalist to solo artist, issuing a series of long-playing vinyl albums and tagged as part of the “cool school” of singers. Her 1961 release was themed to winter and its holidays, This Time of Year, but it took a rare approach: All selections were new pieces, all written by Arnold Miller and Connie Pearce, a married couple who were also performers in vocal groups. And that’s the sole source of the repertoire revisited here. However, I must say it’s a puzzlingly big oversight that the physical CD’s packaging text makes no mention of the earlier album or its singer.
The performances do stand on their own, and are so enjoyable that I’m disappointed that 7 Shades has only six cuts, omitting the other four the Christy collection had.
The classy but low-key Ms. Bisantz, a convincingly kindred spirit to the earlier artist, captures the range of subtly painted moods of the Miller/Pearce pieces. Melodies are pleasing and relaxed. Lyrics can be ambivalent, languid, bittersweet, or present someone who is honest in facing life’s mix of pleasures and pains. They are insightful and often all about perspective. Here’s an example: “So the season makes you sad and sentimental/ Memories it brings to mind/ Are things you’d rather leave behind. /Little lady lonely, don’t you grieve,/ Winter’s got Spring up its sleeve!” (That last line is the song title.) Looking at things in new ways, beyond the surface, is literally the lesson in “7 Shades of Snow,” in which snow is seen not just as white, but changed with the colors of other things reflected in it. “Ring a Merry Bell” is a stiff-upper-lip urging to find something to celebrate, despite finding oneself forlornly far from home. “Sorry to See You Go” is a New Year’s Eve farewell to the old year, recalling the good and the tough passages, too.
The recording’s superb bassist, Jon Burr, is also the bandleader, arranger and producer. The 1961 recording is clearly a dutily respected model, but less so in the actual arrangements and instrumentation than in the more closely followed blueprints of vocals, tempi and phrasing. The Christy album featured a large orchestra—plenty of strings and brass—with some heavyweight jazz players. Here we have a sextet, so it’s more intimate and looser in feel, with individual musicians’ contributions more distinct. The other band members are Mike Eckroth on piano, James Chirillo on guitar, Brandon Lee on trumpet, Marc Phaneuf on saxophone, and Alvester Garnett on drums. I wish there were longer instrumental breaks to really showcase these fine gentlemen. (I notice that almost all the tracks are pretty close in timing to the same titles on the Christy album.)
It’s nice to revitalize these wintry wisdoms six decades on, as they hold up. And I’m happy to get into another outing by long-careered June Bisantz (who, by the way, did release a six-track set with some very well-known Christmas standards back in the ’90s). 7 Shades of Snow, sung by the lady wearing shades on the cover picture, is cool in the shade, sun, or snow.