Characterizing Christmas music as a Gregory Porter double-edged sword may seem unconventional, but the reality is intricate. December uniquely brings forth the timeless voices of music legends—Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett—gracing the airwaves of local stores like Walgreens and Target. The beauty of their renditions and classic tunes is enduring. However, the downside emerges from the overwhelming commercial drive to produce Christmas albums, resulting in an abundance of subpar offerings.
This year, I’m delighted to share my discovery of two new releases that promise to enrich holiday seasons for years to come. Gregory Porter and Samara Joy, both prominent figures in the “jazz” realm, infuse soulful elements into their singing, transcending traditional jazz boundaries. Their holiday albums not only draw from soul but also integrate influences from traditional pop, rhythm & blues, and gospel music.
In an intriguing coincidence, both albums feature offbeat holiday songs from Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” penned by Ron Miller, renowned for the hit “For Once in My Life.” Samara Joy’s rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me” exudes intimacy, accompanied solely by the sensitive pianist Sullivan Fortner. Gregory Porter’s rendition of the title track from the 1967 album is a standout, marked by soulful crooning and skillful modulation.
Porter’s “Christmas Wish” is a richly orchestrated album, featuring a full string orchestra on most tracks and guest instrumentalists like harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret. Both Porter and Joy effortlessly navigate across genres, seamlessly transitioning from traditional hymns like “Silent Night” to more modern secular prayers like ̶