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New Releases

Reviews of albums from Rainbow Kitten and Kyle Simpson Jazz Collective

Rainbow Kitten
A Rainbow Kitten Family Christmas

Christmas music finally has the bizarro makeover it needed. A Rainbow Kitten Family Christmas takes a stab at holiday classics like “The First Noel” and “Away in a Manger,” and transforms them into cute, synth-y oddities, without losing the original melody. Released on Rainbow Kitten’s Bandcamp on Dec. 30 (five days late, or maybe 360 early), Family Christmas has the quirky appeal of old electro-acoustic Beatles covers by Marty Gold. Re-packaging familiar melodies with unconventional instrumentation is a formula as old as time (or maybe just the 1970s), but the album succeeds because each song is covered in a distinct way. There’s nothing one-size-fits-all about the approach here, and the result is a Christmas album that actually breathes life, albeit weird life, into songs that desperately need it. Alex Gordon

Kyle Simpson Jazz Collective
Something in Between

A composer working with large ensembles faces several daunting tasks: constructing pieces that utilize all parts of the group; arranging them in a way that brings out these qualities; and finding players who will bring the ideas to life. Trumpeter Kyle Simpson, a professor of music at Washington & Jefferson College, has managed to fire on all cylinders on Something in Between. The 10 tracks, nine of them penned by Simpson, are split between a seven-piece chamber group and a 16-piece big band. Both settings reveal a rich harmonic sense that recalls Gil Evans’ adventurous work. In “Allegheny Commons Stroll,” bass clarinet melodies interact with upper brass and reeds, with strong solos from saxophonists John Petrucelli and Jacob Teichroew. The album includes some established locals — Reggie Watkins (trombone), Paul Thompson (bass) and George Heid III (drums) — but all the players deserve attention, especially Simpson himself. Mike Shanley

Simpson hosts a CD-release party with a smaller group at 7 p.m. Sat., Jan. 14. City Books, 908 Galveston Ave., North Side. 412-321-7323

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