Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Big Band Holidays II (Blue Engine Records)

Playing live on its home turf in New York City, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis celebrates the season on Big Band Holidays II much as one would expect—it swings, performs some traditional classics and throws in a few wonderfully unexpected tunes, tempos and a guest of royal stature. 

The album opens joyfully with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” that includes bright solos by New Orleans own clarinetist Victor Goines and trumpeter Marsalis. While performing with the orchestra, Marsalis has been known to occasionally have his trumpet step back from the spotlight though he lets it shine here and later on “Snowfall.” That tune begins slow and gentle with Marsalis’ fluttering, muted trumpet reminiscent of when the first light snowflake lands on one’s eyelashes. A blizzard of swirling notes are soon to come. 

There are fun moments like “Cool Yule,” by pianist/television host Steve Allen that was made famous in 1953 by Louis Armstrong. Vocalist Catherine Russell, tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding and altoist Sherman Irby take center stage on this swinging number. 

The trumpet of Marcus Printup and drums of Ali Jackson call out on a powerfully moving rendition of the African American spiritual “Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow.” 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, stands as the royal guest for a never-before-released, 2015 performance at the Center. She’s alone at the piano bringing a gospel flavor to “O Tannenbaum,” which she sings in both English and German. 

“Brazilian Sleigh Bells,” by Percy Faith, is done quite whimsically, and its Latin rhythms offer an enjoyable change of pace. A bluesy “Silent Night,” which opens with the tasty piano of Dan Nimmer, is sung in warm, mellow tones by Denzal Sinclaire who, urged on by the big horn sections, then really goes for it. 

Big Band Holidays II sounds like the swinging season of merry and bright.