“Home for the Holidays,” with its images of snowy landscapes, blazing fireplaces and gifts under the tree, seemed an out-of-touch title for a concert on a balmy Saturday afternoon. But it turned out to be a mostly agreeable juxtaposition of symphonic winter music and Christmas jazz, with occasional meetings between the two.
Though the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s creative chair for jazz, Blue Note recording artist Dianne Reeves, was the focal point of the concert, the symphonic portions were of interest, too.
Leroy Anderson, the late, still underappreciated composer of perfectly crafted three-minute symphonic pops gems, was represented by his dignified medley of holiday tunes, “A Christmas Festival” — its robust brass parts magnified by the hall’s acoustics — and his most enduring hit, “Sleigh Ride,” taken at a leisurely trot.
Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” is, of course, overrepresented this time of year, but instead of slogging through the predictable “Waltz of the Flowers,” conductor William Henry Curry opted for the swirling waltz that concludes act two. Better yet, Curry reached for the marvelous Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn transformation of “Nutcracker’s” March into “Peanut Brittle Brigade,” heard in a blownup symphonic arrangement that still managed to swing with the help of strategically placed jazzers within the Philharmonic.
Though hampered by tubby amplification that made Disney Hall sound like a high-school basketball gym (why is this necessary?), Reeves and her jazz quartet expertly presented excerpts from their new Blue Note album “Christmas Time Is Here” during the concert’s first half. With her dead-on sense of pitch, Reeves injected some virtuosic scat into “Carol of the Bells” and “Let It Snow,” while “Christmas Waltz” caught fire toward the end as the quartet latched onto a samba groove.
The treacle came later when the Philharmonic joined Reeves in the second half, with big glops of orchestration unloaded upon “The Christmas Song.” But even here there were moments of enterprise. “The Little Drummer Boy” was treated to an audience-participation stunt in which Reeves asked the aud to hold a droning note while she scatted freely above. The effect was like an African incantation — unusual and winning.