What is it about the Christmas season that prompts otherwise sane people to record some of the most shameless drivel of their career? I’ve always been more or less content with trumpeter Chris Botti’s work in the past — not necessarily for its innovative contribution to jazz, but for its qualities as inoffensive ambience music. December, however, steers the nauseating course of most opportunistic marketing ploys, stopping off at kitsch and gimmick along the way. The man’s ego has now trampled my estimation of his talents. I intend to rid my entire music collection, including MP3s, of all traces of his name, excepting, of course, his fleeting collaborations with New York indie-pop outfit Ivy.
The jazz (if you can call it that; perhaps “trite instrumentals” is a more appropriate phrasing) on December won’t come as any sort of breakthrough. It might even set the genre back a few decades. It’s tuneful and pleasant enough, and left at this, it might have even passed under critical noses undetected, thereby saving album reviewers as well as Botti himself a lot of unnecessary bother. But then Botti makes the foolish decision to shoot for some inaccessible high notes — on “Perfect Day,” a track written by Richard “Should’ve Known Better” Marx, no less! — and the whole project collapses into a painful, time-wasting affair.
Allowing the album to continue to spin in the player after track five was a mere token gesture on my part, thought it did enable me to discover, or unwittingly stumble across, “Little Drummer Boy,” which has to be a new low in music-making. It’s a hipper version of the music that stores like Woolworth’s or K-Mart pipe in around this time of year — perfect for bankrupt chain store franchises trying to improve their brand identity, but terrible for the unsuspecting Botti fan who buys this expecting him to uphold some sort of aesthetic standard — any at all, in fact — for forty-five measly minutes.
This is one album to stuff deep into the stocking of your most bitter enemy this holiday season. Even the most staid proponents of the whole peace-on-earth-goodwill-towards-men ethic will have difficulty keeping such justifiable ill will toward Botti under wraps.