World & Latin

An Exotic Christmas

15 DEC 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

Christmas takes a decidedly Latin turn with Paraguayan harpist Roberto Perera's Christmas Fantasies, a Heads Up release from 1996. The songs themselves may be familiar holiday fare, but the instrumentation, arrangements and rhythms make for a slightly more exotic and tropical yuletide experience than usual.

The set opens with "Winter Wonderland," which sets up a lighthearted counterpoint between Perera's harp and Abel Pabon's piano, with lots of percussion underneath, courtesy of Archie Peña and Rafael Solano. Likewise, "The Christmas Song" leans heavily on a Caribbean rhythm with the help of Peña's congas and timbales.

Two tracks stray from the typical Christmas fare -- the mystical sounding "La Peregrinacion" ("The Pilgrimage") and the Spanish-flavored "Niño Lindo" ("Beautiful Child"). The former is a quiet and meditative piece, and the latter more rhythmic and assertive. Both spotlight the rich sounds rendered by Juan Areco's acoustic guitar.

"Christmas Medley" includes three perennial children's favorites -- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" -- and is followed by a version of "Silent Night" that vacillates between a traditional acoustic arrangement and a more electronically enhanced sound.

The album closes with a reading of "The Little Drummer Boy" that starts quietly, then slips into a more rhythmic island groove via Pabon's keyboards and Pena's drumming.

Christmas Fantasies may take you off the beaten path worn by more traditional holiday albums, but the result is never cute or kitschy. For as exotic and intriguing as these tracks may be, they'll mix seamlessly with the likes of Nat Cole, Sinatra or the Boston Pops.