Christmas tunes in March
March 2000
By Mac McDonald

I never thought I’d be listening to a Christmas album in the beginning of spring, but flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny’s Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag crossed my desk a few weeks ago, and I can’t seem to keep it off my desktop CD player.

It’s got your usual Christmas offerings, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas” and “Winder Wonderland,” but for some reason, it doesn’t seem too out of place in March. In fact, it’s downright refreshing.

That’s probably due to Matheny, a rising star in the Northern California jazz firmament, whose warm tone, playful nature and lyrical sensibilities add an extra dimension and freshness to this collection of tried-and-true (and often overdone) holiday tunes.

He’s helped immensely on the album, his fourth, by well-known Bay Area artists such as singers Brenda Boykin and Paula West, saxophonist Kenny Brooks, bassist Ruth Davies and veteran drummer Eddie Marshall.

Matheny, who plays Saturday night at the Jazz & Blues Company in Carmel with an incredible ensemble (more on that later), seems to be collecting awards and glowing reviews at an alarming rate. He’s already been named "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" by Downbeat magazine and runner-up in Jazziz magazine’s "Best New Artist" poll for 1999.

His album Penumbra was named one of the top 10 albums of 1998 by the Oakland Tribune and his Red Reflections was one of the top 10 albums of 1995 by Jazziz critics.

In addition to all that, he’s a respected composer, a jazz educator at the Jazzschool in Berkeley and the Stanford Jazz Workshop and a touring artist with the California Arts Council.

For Saturday night’s show, he’ll be joined by pianist Amina Figarova (a recording artist in her own right) and flutist Bart Platteau from the Netherlands, bassist Davies and drummer Marshall, one of the Bay Area’s jazz treasures.

Tickets for the two-set show are available by calling 624-6430. With any luck, Dmitri and the band may even play a rendition of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” It will be April Fools’ Day, after all.