This is unquestionably a skilled ensemble but you wish they’d break out a little more.
The Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven’s Evergreen is a slight, welcome album of holiday instrumentals. As expected, the playing is both inventive and precise; the arrangements are cheery and dynamic. Throughout these performances, the group allows the jazz influence to smooth out any rustic edges that might be suggested by the bluegrass instruments and the result is something like a very polite, updated and dressed-up version of western swing, with songs that balance diminished piano chords, a nimble rhythm section, and Craven’s warbly fiddle lines. This is unquestionably a skilled ensemble but you wish they’d break out a little more. If anything, Brown herself is too modest: the record could use a few more loudly energetic banjo solos, the kind that sing “Joy to the World” and mean it.