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When Kurt Elling embraced the meaning, the spirit and the word “Christmas” in creating his new album The Beautiful Day (OKeh), he also wanted to make a holiday album that celebrated the promise and magical energy of the Christmas season that touches people of all beliefs. Inventive and fresh, The Beautiful Day reimagines the sounds of Christmas, mixing traditional carols decked out in new arrangements with songs that are revelations and rediscovered treats.

The Beautiful Day is out now on OKeh Records. Get your copy today on iTunes, Amazon (CD, mp3) or Google Play. Listen on Spotify here or Apple Music here.

While its vibrant pedigree is jazz, The Beautiful Day allowed Elling’s imagination to range far and wide in finding the right songs to hit what he called “a sweet spot.” Elling created the arrangements himself with pianist Stuart Mindeman, as well as his longtime collaborators, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kendrick Scott.

“In the Western world, whether you’re a Christian or not, Christmas has some kind of seasonal relevance to you,” Elling said. “You can’t really escape the holiday – even if it’s just coming at you on television … For me, the holiday comes enriched with a lot of beautiful personal memories. It also comes freighted with the knowledge that millions of other people around the world carry their own such memories; and not all those memories are of happy occasions. So it was daunting to take on something with so much history and resonance. I hope that with this material I found a sweet spot.”

Included on The Beautiful Day are traditional carols – “Little Drummer Boy” and “We Three Kings” – in striking new arrangements, as well as the wistful folk-rock of Dan Fogelberg (“Same Old Lang Syne”) and the jazz-and-gospel-influenced soul of Donny Hathaway (“This Christmas”). A trio of popular contemporary Christmas songs – Terre Roche’s “Star of Wonder,” Alfred Burt & Wihla Hutson’s “Some Children See Him,” and Claude & Ruth Thornhill’s “Snowfall” – are heard, as well as a recent arrival, “The Snow is Deep on the Ground” by John Hollenbeck & Kenneth Patchen. Elling also created a new song (“The Michigan Farm”), writing lyrics to a melody by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

A charming rediscovery on The Beautiful Day is a handful of songs – including the album’s title track, with a vocal by Elling’s daughter Luiza – from Leslie Bricusse’s Oscar-nominated but often overlooked score for the film musical Scrooge (1970), based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Throughout The Beautiful Day, the beloved Czech carol “Wenceslas” – with its tale of Christmas love and generosity of spirit – appears three times, the basis for strikingly different musical impressions of the atmosphere of Christmas.

“It’s a funny thing, going in to make a Christmas record – a strange, exhilarating, challenging thing – especially when your father was a church musician, as mine was, and so much of your childhood was based around the church calendar and preparing music for religious observances,” Elling said. “The music on this album has meaning; it’s inclusive; it’s seasonal, by which I mean the actual season of winter in North America; and it has a little bit of searching weight to it – avoiding, I hope, the usual seasonal cliché.”