Predictably, Kurt Elling's first Christmas album is anything but predictable. The exquisite quintet session unites Elling with guitarist John McLean, pianist Stu Mindeman, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kendrick Scott. Intermingling the secular and sacred, they reimagine a couple of holiday standards — a funkified "Little Drummer Boy," and Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall" blended with John Hollenbeck's enchanting "The Snow Is Deep on the Ground" — but reserve the lion's share of the disc for less-familiar selections.
Terre Roche's "Star of Wonder" is, logically enough, placed aside "We Three Kings," Elling alternating between the traditional lyrics and Tori Amos' sage retelling. Offsetting "Same Old Lang Syne," Dan Fogelberg's bittersweet tale of an unexpected Christmas Eve reunion, is a loose, joyous take on Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas."
Elling dips into the obscure Burt Carols — the legendary series crafted by minister Bates Burt in the 1920s and '30s and thereafter by his son, trumpeter Alfred Burt — for 1951's "Some Children See Him," a lovely tribute to absolute faith. And he includes one original, "The Michigan Farm," his stirringly beautiful words atop an Edvard Grieg lullaby.
Most unexpected are three selections from the film and stage versions of the musical Scrooge. Though not composer Leslie Bricusse's best work, Elling makes the most of the jaunty "Sing a Christmas Carol" and jejune "Christmas Children," closing with the album's title track, refashioned as a charming vocal duet with his 10-year-old daughter, Luiza.