A Very Chilly Christmas by Chilly Gonzales
- ONE TRACK: O Tannenbaum
- A VERY CHILLY CHRISTMAS on YouTube and Spotify
- VIDEO: The Banister Bough (feat. Feist)
- REVIEW: The New Yorker
A CHILLY TWIST ON CHRISTMAS
Brilliant and quirky pianist Chilly Gonzales gets the Christmas album right
Just before the holidays in 2020 the Canadian musician and Montreal native known as Chilly Gonzales released a seasonal album that met the mood of our first pandemic Christmas. Sixteen songs – one of them an original written by longtime collaborator Leslie Feist – present a familiar and relaxed Xmas soundtrack. But they also offer a quieter, sombre edge.
Gonzales explores sensitive angles of Xmas on A Very Chilly Christmas with a sure touch. The season has fun, bittersweet, quiet moments and more. The album’s music reflects many of them.
The well-balanced collection features an array of arrangements from piano-only to subtle cello accompaniments, a choir (on We three Kings), and one spoken word piece and vocals courtesy of Britain’s Jarvis Cocker and Feist. O Tannenbaum gets a light and jaunty treatment while the Jingle Bells/Santa Claus is Coming to Town medley, played in a minor key, has a formal touch.
Among the highlights in the collection is his interpretation of Mariah Carey’s chart-topping hit Last Christmas. Gonzales is at home in a variety of genres having worked and composed with artists as diverse as Daft Punk, Drake, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Feist.
He describes his take on Carey’s song in a 2020 interview with the Globe and Mail’s Brad Wheeler:
“Her version is a lot about ego, and a lot about singing the hell out the song. It’s not exactly self-effacing, to say the least.
“But I was able to find my way into performing a version of that song by removing all of that and really focusing on just the straight melodies, and to focus on the song itself, which is a beautifully written piece of music.”
A Very Chilly Christmas certainly had an appropriate feel for 2020’s isolated and disconcerting pandemic holiday season. However, given that Christmas has many colours, the album deserves a permanent place in your seasonal playlist.
10 December 2022
THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE
The pianist puts his stamp on holiday music
The self-identified “musical genius” Chilly Gonzales counters his absurdities with a repertoire that extends to dance music, rap, and classical-tinged solo works. On his new album, “A Very Chilly Christmas,” the pianist puts his stamp on holiday music, predominantly through elegiac renderings of seasonal touchstones.
Onstage he can summon the piano satirist Victor Borge, but here even Wham!’s “Last Christmas” comes draped in melancholy. Like many architects of Christmas music, Gonzales (born Jason Beck) is Jewish, and there’s an element of pressed-against-the-glass wistfulness to these renditions.
Fittingly, the album’s centerpiece is “Snow Is Falling in Manhattan,” a 2019 David Berman heartbreaker that gets treated as a standard, with vocals by Jarvis Cocker and Feist. On Dec. 23, both singers join Gonzales for “A Very Chilly Christmas Special,” a Web variety show taped in an empty Paris theatre—“not,” the pianist notes, “some live-streamed B.S. from my living room.”
— Jay Ruttenberg / December 2020