There are several ways to have “A Hot and Spicy Christmas.” You can have a meal of tamales, date a Latin lady, drink some hot mulled spiced cider, or listen to Irene Nachreiner’s album called A Hot and Spicy Christmas.
Or maybe you should do all of the above this year. But zeroing in on the music side of Christmas, Irene has come up with a delectable new recording that certainly takes Latin music AND Christmas music in new directions.
Nachreiner performs with her Latin jazz band, but this is soft-edged smooth-and-creamy “Girl From Ipanema”-styled Latin-jazz that anyone can enjoy. Just hearing Christmas songs done with a bit of a Latin rhythm and beat, plus a hint of jazziness thrown in, makes these seasonal sounds a little different. Then to top it off, Irene has chosen traditional well-known pieces for about a third of the album, but fairly obscure tunes for the rest of the CD. She did a lot of digging to unearth Christmas music from the past half-a-millennium that are not on every CD you pick up in the mall. She says she was tired of hearing the same old songs year after year. Who isn’t? But even the better-known ones like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Come O Come Immanuel” are changed-up quite a bit and do not sound like the versions you hear in church every December.
The band lays back for the most part, but occasionally the piano, acoustic guitar or violin come to the forefront and show their stuff. In addition, Irene sings mostly in English, but occasionally mixes in some fluent French lyrics. She also inserts a Russian dance theme by Tchaikovsky from “The Nutcracker Suite” into the instrumental section of “Fum, Fum, Fum” (which I was sort of hoping was a European version of The Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun”). Irene squeezed a bit of the theme from “O Christmas Tree” into “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” and added Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy” to “Sing We Now of Christmas/Noël Nouvelet.” So even when the main tune is not that familiar, all of a sudden a little musical theme drifts in that is very recognizable.
The whole album is a lot of fun, especially since it does not sound like all the standard Christmas albums that come pouring out each year. The back cover shows a wreath made out of red chili peppers. I don’t think my stomach can take that. I’ll stick to some Christmas pudding or egg nog, but I will plop this CD in the player at every party this year and wait for the inevitable reaction: “That’s interesting music. What is it that we’re listening to?”