Since its debut in 2002, Verve Remixed has paired some of the worlds most adventurous DJs and producers with some of the best jazz music in history. The pioneering series has achieved the rare feat of becoming both a critical and commercial success, culling the esteemed catalog of Verve Records and tapping into the creative visions of an influential generation of beat-makers. ‘Tis the season for the latest in the pioneering series: Verve Remixed Christmas. Classic interpretations of holiday songs by legendary artists like Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald – everlasting standards that have evoked the holiday spirit for decades – are re-imagined by visionary beat-makers, yielding classics for a new era. Conceived and compiled by co-producers Dahlia Ambach-Caplin and Todd Roberts, Verve Remixed Christmas will ensure that you’ll have the coolest holiday season.
“GOOD MORNING BLUES” (The Real Tuesday Weld Clarkenwell Mix) // Count Basie
The original song, “Good Morning Blues,” was one of signature tunes for Basie, the inimitable pianist, composer and big-band icon. A love song wrapped in a Christmas wish, the song is remixed here by Stephen Coates and his outfit, The Real Tuesday Weld, who give it a stripped-down, jazzy shimmy, based on Basie’s sing-song piano riff and string flourishes. Capturing the original’s Christmas-time yearning, this new track has an almost sensual, burlesque feel that is evocative of the British band’s other work, on their own and for groups like the B. (Last year, the band were commissioned to create original music for the Rothko exhibit at the Tate Modern museum in London).
“’ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUSE?” (The Heavy Remix) // Louis Armstrong
The inimitable Louis Armstrong’s catalog can be considered an American treasure. But there was always something about his holiday tunes – on his own, or with singer Ella Fitzgerald – that seemed to play perfectly with Armstrong’s charismatic personality, animated singing style and grand musical chops. That’s the case with this version of “’Zat You,” an original composition and covered by everyone from Brian Setzer to Garth Brooks, and remixed here by UK soul-rock band, The Heavy. The group are old-school soul revue revivalists, and on this tune, they elevate Armstrong’s playfulness and subtly beef up the tune’s original big-band swagger.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE?” (Mangini vs. Pallin Mix) // Ella Fitzgerald
This gem of a track is originally a glorious nugget from Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swingin Christmas, and this remix captures the inherent sound of Ella’s swing, with a cleaner, crisper, more modern feel. It comes courtesy of Mike Mangini and Adam Pallin. Mangini is a music veteran whose ability to constantly explore new terrain keeps his sound fresh. He certainly understands new interpretations of jazz – he engineered the first Digable Planets album and has worked with Joss Stone, Run DMC and David Byrne. Pallin’s dynamic sound as a member of the Brooklyn-based soul outfit Little Jackie (with Imani Copolla), lends a touch of old-school suaveness to this collaboration.
“I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM” (Yesking Remix) // Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday’s signature version of this Irving Berlin classic has always encapsulated that feeling of cozying up to a warm fire with a loved one during the snowy days of Christmas. In this re-interpretation, that idyllic scene is transplanted to the Caribbean islands, with a lovely, dub-reggae re-interpretation by UK DJ and production duo, Yesking (Mark Rae, Rhys Adams). Rae has been a fixture on the English dance scene for more than a decade, while Adams grew into one of the instrumental beat-makers for the label Wall of Sound, and their crafty remix of Holiday’s tune draws on their unique sound-styling’s.
“WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD” (The Orb Remix) // Louis Armstrong
It seems only appropriate for this collection that perhaps the most famous American standard ever sung is given the most imaginative remix by one of electronic music’s most enduring acts. “What A Wonderful World” isn’t explicitly a Christmas song, but the optimism and rosy worldview sung by Armstrong is a cheery representation of the holiday season. Here, The Orb craft a remix based on myriad musical styles, an electronic mash-up of heavy dub rhythms, intricate electronic layering and lush ambient grooves, wrapped around the scratch-and-pop of Armstrong’s original. The Orb is one of the seminal electronic music acts of the last two decades, and their pairing with the iconic Armstrong is fitting.
“WINTER WONDERLAND” (Christian Prommer Remix) // Shirley Horn
The challenge of remixing “Winter Wonderland” is its ubiquity as a holiday classic. Indeed, it’s been covered by hundreds of artists from Frank Sinatra to the Cocteau Twins, in a number of different ways. Who better to live up to the challenge than Christian Prommer, the German drummer and producer responsible for his innovative work in ushering in the Euro jazz-beat movement of the late 1990s (Truby Trio, Fauna Flash), and most recently, spearhead of Drumlesson (live-band reinterpretations of dance-floor classics). Shirley Horn’s austere version of “Winter Wonderland” is elegant, and a staple of traditional Verve Christmas compilations. Prommer builds around it with a subtle, rhythmic, minimal techno beat, and the result is both original and mesmerizing.
“GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMAN” (Oh No Remix) // Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith’s version of this old-school Christmas carol (the actual ‘carol’ of Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol), turned a fudgy 15th Century church song into an organ-grinding soul-jazz triumph, with the panache that only Smith’s funky self could. In this re-working, the essence of Smith’s chitlin-circuit rendition is flipped into a brash, drum-heavy Blaxploitation-like instrumental anthem by Stones Throw producer and rapper Oh No. It’s the kind of “new classic” that one could envision future generations of hip-hop producers sampling. It figures Oh No would have the chops to pull it off. He is the nephew of renowned trumpeter Jon Faddis, the son of ‘70s soul singer Otis Jackson and the brother of premiere hip-hop eccentric, Madlib.
“I AM BLESSED” (Wax Tailor Remix) // Nina Simone
Nina Simone’s raspy, arching voice had always been an inspiration to longtime French DJ and producer Wax Tailor, so much that many of his early productions contain snippets and mosaics of Simone vocals (along with movie dialogues, news programs, and anything else that influenced him). He’s a natural fit for this remix, turning Simone’s holiday gospel tune (a personal favorite of hers) into a funky, soul-strutting holiday jam. Simone’s vocals are left unfettered, and instead, Tailor propels the song with playful, hip-hop rhythms, bongo beat breakdowns and heavy bop drums.
“SILENT NIGHT” (Brazilian Girls Remix) // Dinah Washington
Of all the Christmas carols in existence, “Silent Night” could be the most dignified and, well, sobering. Making it fit with this compilation first begins with selecting Dinah Washington’s version of the standard (her glorious, heavenly voice always had the gravitas to live up to any occasion), and then giving it to one of the more lively, dance-friendly bands around, the Brazilian Girls. Their inventive, electronic mash-up mentality flips this somber holiday staple into a slow, sexy Samba that could have you shimmying around the Christmas tree. The quirky keyboard riffs at song’s end are a reminder that even the most serious holiday tunes can still be fun.
“THE CHRISTMAS SONG” (Sonny J Remix) // Mel Torme
Though this Christmas chestnut was made most famous when sung by Nat King Cole, it was Mel Torme who wrote and composed the original (allegedly written in the summertime in an effort to “keep cold by thinking cold”). Torme’s golden voice is re-contextualized by up-and-coming English producer and songwriter, Sonny J, (who was discovered via YouTube). He turns Torme’s version into a breezy, dream-like journey into the holiday night, a la Zero 7 or Thievery Corporation. Sonny J alternately strips down the melodies to let Torme’s voice take the lead, and then gently builds up the crescendos with layers of soft electronics and catchy, glitchy manipulations that will nip at your nose.
“CHILLY WINDS” (Fink Remix) // Nina Simone
Nina Simone’s second tune on this compilation isn’t a traditional holiday song, but its refrain – Simone singing in her unique rasp, “chilly winds don’t blow” – lends an air of holiday optimism to the entire affair. Brighton, UK’s Fink remakes this tune, sampling Simone’s vocals and submerging it in delicate, soulful piano stabs, smoky bass-lines and a mellow, dance floor groove. The down tempo number is representative of a lot of Fink’s work, a buoyant mix of live instrumentation and electronic beats, and their work here not only re-imagines this Simone tune, but the holiday spirit as well.