Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends
Joshua Bell's 2009 album At Home with Friends presented the outward-looking classical violinist jamming with a varied lineup of musicians. Bell now returns to that format with an album of holiday tunes. The trick with this concept is putting your own stamp on a set of standards heard thousands of times performed by thousands of different musicians—all without straying too far from these precious melodies. Of course, putting Bell’s beautiful tone and spectacular skill front and center gives this project a leg up (check out his playing on “Greensleeves”). He also gets strong performances from his friends on a Latinized approach to “Christmas Auld Lang Syne,” a Gypsy-swing take on “Let It Snow,” and a soulful version of “Amazing Grace.” Perhaps in a moment of self-awareness, Bell includes “Christmas Confusion” with classical music pranksters Igudesman & Joo; here they run through bits of different songs as if nightmarishly stuck in a mall where every store plays different songs, and it all blends together into Christmas mush. Happily, there's no fear of that happening with this album.