Independent Reviewer

Review: Christmas is Here

With material as tried, true and in some cases worn smooth as Deanna Reuben tackles on Christmas Is Here, the focus quickly shifts to her own approach – and Reuben, a former classical and opera singer, delivers the goods.

Christmas Is Here features a slate of expected Yuletide chestnuts, from “Silent Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “Silver Bells” and “The Christmas Song.” The revelations, however, come early and often – beginning with Reuben’s joy-filled, yet delectably measured delivery. Very much in the style of a June Christy, this Pennsylvania native interprets these songs in an approachably learned manner that will delight fans of both jazz and pop. She’s able to project a whisper of winking sensuality without damaging the setting’s wholesome atmosphere, no easy thing.

 

The album is also pushed along, often with fizzy delight, by a crack team of Philadelphia-area musical vets – notably saxophonist Larry McKenna. Reuben’s band is rounded out by Paul Colombo on guitar, Steve Varner on bass and Jason Long on piano, Long also handled the arrangements on Christmas is Here. The bulk of the drumming duties were handled by Dan Monaghan, with Byron Landham sitting in on a trio of tunes.

Together, they breathe new life into songs that, on the face of them, would seem to have little tread left after countless readings.

For “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Long’s spritely, West Coast-inspired asides are brilliantly countermanded by Monaghan’s insistent clatterings. Reuben, whose classical career was cut short by a vocal injury, moves with a witty grace through the proceedings, ramping up for a bold finish. They then combine Ted Shapiro’s “Winter Weather” with the Stein-Cahn classic “Let It Snow,” making a connection that should have been there all along. “A Christmas Love Song,” the Johnny Mandel favorite, finds Colombo’s guitar moving to the fore – and his ruminative lines only add to the smoky intrigue of Reuben’s loving take on the lyric. Glenn Barratt – the engineer and mixer on this date – then adds a cheeky background vocal as Reuben appropriates Eartha Kitt’s devilish whisper on “Santa Baby.”

McKenna’s brawny intro to “Silver Bells” is then the latest signal that Reuben isn’t about to settle for the rote route. They swing this song with a feverish delight. Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song,” on the other hand, is given a more straight-forward reading, though Monaghan remains active with the brushes, giving the song a quiet propulsion. Colombo’s Wes Montgomery-style riffs imbue “The Christmas Waltz” with a cool modernity, before Long and Varner tangle through a brilliant improv section. Reuben’s performance smoothly moves from a child-like innocence to a battered adult hopefulness on “My Grown Up Christmas List,” a track from David Foster and Linda Thompson Jenner that represents the album’s least-known moment.

McKenna’s retorts on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and a wonderfully flirtatious version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” give both songs a deeper emotional resonance – and Reuben matches him stride for stride. Long’s crystalline intro to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” shimmering and direct, then sets the stage for one of Reuben’s most controlled performances. There’s plenty of room for the treacly here, and she walks that fine line like a circus acrobat.

Not everything connects. Barry Ciabattoni joins Reuben in a game, but ultimately too safe, update of the Ray Charles-Betty Carter favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” They simply don’t share the same chemistry. But far more often, as on the closing “Silent Night,” Reuben and Co. find new corners to explore even in a house of songs so familiar as to be navigable even amidst a Christmas Eve slumber. The song unfolds like a loving embrace, the perfect ending for an album of sugar-plum surprises.

  • Artist: Deanna Reuben
  • Album: Christmas Is Here
  • Reviewer: Nick DeRiso
  • Rating: 4 stars

Jazz Inside Magazine

Jazz Inside Magazine – November 2013

This time of year always brings a variety of new Christmas jazz albums. Christmas jazz albums are usually quite accessible to an audience far beyond the jazz world. Most Xmas songs have attractive chord changes for jazz improvisers, ranging from the Dixieland of “Jingle Bells” to more sophisticated ballads.

Deanna Reuben’s early background found her enjoying Broadway show albums, taking piano and voice lessons, and singing in high school musicals. She was classically trained and after college became a choral director who performed with local opera companies. The highpoint of her early career was performing regularly with the 16-voice chamber ensemble The Washington Singers and singing as a soloist at Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Damage caused by neck surgery in 2003 forced her to end her classical career and switch to singing jazz and standards. Her career change has been successful and Christmas Is Here is her fourth CD as a leader.

Although there are times in some of her longer high notes when one can guess that she might have once sung opera (she has perfect control over her voice), throughout Christmas Is Here Deanna Reuben shows that she can swing, improvise with subtlety (mostly in her phrasing) and sound quite comfortable in a jazz setting. Her voice is lovely in all of its registers and one can easily understand all of the words that she sings.

Since she is based in Philadelphia, Ms. Reuben utilized some of the top local jazz musicians on this CD. Tenor-saxophonist Larry McKenna (a Philly legend) co-stars on three of the songs, guitarist Paul Colombo takes many fine short solos, and pianist Jason. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” gets the set off to a jam session-flavored start. Performing “Winter Weather” and “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” as a medley proves to be an inspired idea, for the switch between songs during the third chorus sounds inevitable in retrospect. It helps that both tunes have similar messages. On “A Christmas Love Song,” Deanna Reuben shows off her range, hitting some beautiful high notes.

“Santa Baby” was originally a hit for Eartha Kitt but somehow the song, with its cute and sexy lyrics, recalls Marilyn Monroe. Ms. Reuben sounds just like Monroe during this witty version with Glenn Barratt contributing the background vocal. Usually a waltz, “Silver Bells” is effectively turned into a swinging piece in 4/4. Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” is given a straightforward treatment while “The Christmas Waltz” is full of the Yuletide spirit. The most contemporary song this set is the
Kelly Clarkson hit “My Grown Up Christmas List” which is performed here as a sweet longing ballad. Always taken as a humorous duet vocal, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has Deanna Reuben sharing the stage with Barry Ciabattoni. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” (which was originally made famous by Gene Autry) features the singer performing the rarely heard verse before it becomes a swinging romp with Larry McKenna. The bittersweet “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” a heartfelt rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” conclude this excellent set of Christmas jazz. The music is delightful and Deanna Reuben does justice to these beloved songs.

—Scott Yanow

Jersey Jazz Society

“Jersey Jazz” – November 2013

by Joe Lang

Christmas is Here (Deanna Reuben – No Catalog Number) is a straight ahead recording from vocalist Deanna Reuben. With fine arrangements provided by pianist Jason Long, Reuben assays a collection of popular Christmas songs with help from Long on piano, Paul Colombo on guitar; Steve Varner on bass, and Dan Monaghan or Byron Landham on drums. Tenor sax master Larry McKenna adds some tasty playing on three tracks, “Silver Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Reuben has a nice easy-on-the-ears voice that lends warmth and understanding to the lyrics, and she swings too. This is a good one for when the chestnuts are roasting on an open fire.

In Tune International Magazine UK

In Tune International Magazine UK – October 2011

by Dan Singer

Deanna is delicate when she should be and forceful when it matters most – fresh as a singing daisey. There’s much to throw yourself into here.

A pair of Schwartz/Dietz songs can’t be bettered. The verse of “I See Your Face Before Me” just glows. The tenderness of their “Haunted Heart” should stay with you for quite some time. Her treatment of “Devil May Care” (Kirk/Dorough) is uptempo and uplifting. Ms. Reuben dazzles here and is wildly on key throughout. The title song (Noble) is almost still sung. Bob Meashey most ably helps out on the fluge/horn.

“Where Do You Start?” (Bergmans/Mandel) is a moody yet spellbinding musical treat. Deanna never lets us in a deep ingrossing beautiful cry for a romantic past most personal. It’s emotionally draining. One can’t go wrong with the pair of Duke Ellington songs: “Just Squeeze Me” (Gaines) and “I Didn’t Know Enough About You” (Russell). Both can’t be improved upon. There is so much more to wrap yourself into here in her third album.

Jersey Jazz Society

“Jersey Jazz” – September 2011

by Joe Lang

There are many singers out there who make albums that address the songs of the Great American Songbook. The Very Thought of You by Deanna Reuben is one of the better ones that I have heard recently. Reuben has a smooth an pleasant sound, straight ahead with a nice jazz feeling underneath. Pianist Marty Mellinger, bassist Steve Varner and drummer George Johnson form her basic support with guest appearances by the wonderful tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, flugelhornist Bob Meashey, guitarist Paul Colombo and violinist Christopher Collins Lee.

The album is nicely paced with lovely ballad readings of songs like “Haunted Heart,” “Over the Rainbow” and “How Insensitive,” and easily swinging takes on tunes such as “Easy to Love” and “Devil May Care.” To close the program, Reuben sings “Cinema Paradiso” in Italian, accompanied only by the guitar of Colombo and the violin of Lee, and it is an interesting and daring, but effective way to close things out.

Midwest Record

Midwest Records – June 2011

Deanna Reuben / The Very Thought of You: A classically trained singer that found her feet under her in jazz, Reuben knows how to work a classic and deliver a solid performance. Straight ahead jazz takes on American chestnuts, this set has more bite than the typical set of this ilk that is just trying to fit the format. With a smoking crew of Philly jazzbos behind her, everyone is working like a unit and the results are always top shelf. A dandy find for straight up jazz vocal fans that love a singer that knows how to work in service to the song.

Jazz Improv Magazine

Jazz Improv Magazine – May 2006

The Look of Love

Deanna Reuben has been a presence in the eastern Pennsylvania and mid-Atlantic states for over thirty years. Yet, The Look of Love is her first recording. Better late than never. Now, the listeners who have been enjoying Reuben’s music all of these years can take the music home with them, so to speak. In addition, The Look of Love provides exposure for Reuben beyond her loyal cadre of listeners. In fact, anyone who enjoys romantic coverage of standards would enjoy her CD.

Reuben started her career with opera, theater, and choral directing. And she has opened for such acts as Yo Yo Ma, Marvin Hamlisch and Itzhak Perlman. Yet, she chose jazz standards and ballad form for her first album due to their ability to allow her to express her emotions… and her appreciation to the people who have encouraged her.

With exacting articulation and pitch, Reuben covers songs that allow her to become involved in the meaning of the lyrics. She takes “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” at a medium tempo, distinguished by Marty Mellinger’s sensitive accompaniment on keyboard, sounding more like guitar then piano. The other interesting element of Reuben’s recording is her work with tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, who has been compared more times than he would like to Stan Getz. Yet, McKenna possesses a similar melodic approach that appeals to listeners with urgency and memorable phrasing.

In the case of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” as one listens, it becomes evident that McKenna doesn’t merely insert instrumental commentary during the rests, but rather he’s an integral part of the recording as the liquidity of his playing effectively harmonizes with Reuben, even as he anchors her singing during the dramatic high points. On “Body and Soul,” which Reuben takes as a bossa nova, McKenna’s affinity with Getz comes into full play as he introduces the song with a strangely familiar sounds. But no, it’s not Getz and Gilberto, but rather McKenna and Reuben. That’s the kind of insinuating appeal that Reuben seeks when she chooses a song, selecting an alternative arrangement that’s consistent with her personality.

There’s “The Look of Love,” of course, the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song of many years ago that Reuben uses as an encapsulation of all that she intends to convey on the album. Once again, it has a Brazilian feel, as Reuben and Company elongate the words “look,” “love,” “in” and “eyes” for two measures, rather than one, adding a more haunting atmosphere to the song. In fact, Reuben is entirely consistent throughout the CD as all of the songs are taken at approximately the same tempo, playing to her strengths as an interpreter of ballads. On a few of the songs, like “If I Never Met You,” strings and woodwinds appear, even though they aren’t credited in the liner notes, as if Reuben were on stage instead of in a recording studio. But Reuben seems to have found her musical niche when she performs with Mellinger and McKenna, as they complement one another…and her…to create a like-minded group that makes her debut recording one that captures the spirit of her personality.

—Bill Donaldson

All About Jazz

All About Jazz

The Look of Love

Deanna Reuben captures the essence of romance through her heartfelt interpretation of our favorite songs. The Look of Love sends a message clearer than flowers or a box of candy or dinner and a movie. With this session, you get clarion vocals with a stellar jazz quintet that sparkles brightly through sensual ballads and upbeat rhythms. Tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna serves as Reuben’s musical partner, adding rapturous melodies to her resonant vocal themes.

With a fluid delivery, she shapes each song like clay. The rhythm from bass and drums gives each piece a heartbeat, while Marty Mellinger’s keyboards surround the session with synth strings and wallpaper of velvet. Reuben’s attack moves with emotional force as she sends a passionate message through her charming interpretations. With “Summertime,” for example, she explodes with the power of Shirley Bassey and creates lightning sparks along the way.

Most of the program, however, mellows out with soothing ballads that allow Reuben to wear her heart on her shirtsleeve. McKenna partners with her to add melodic grace. ”The Look of Love” stands out for its floating quality as the singer caresses the familiar melody with a hug and a kiss. “I Concentrate on You” puts Reuben and McKenna together in one of those simpatico relationships that bring out the best from all parties. In her upper register, the singer wears thin when the volume diminishes, causing some of her sheen to fade. She’s at her best when projecting forcefully up high and when crooning sweetly in the lower registers with that natural romantic spirit.

Reprinted with permission. © 2006 AllAboutJazz.com and Jim Santella.