It seems inevitable that Samson Trinh, who once helmed an affectionate big-band remake of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” would find the iconic, sentimental songbook of Christmas to be irresistible. The only surprise is that it took him eight years to do it.
Trinh’s Upper East Side Big Band is releasing a Christmas album decked with a multitude of Richmond players and a glittering string of clever productions evoking — sometimes all at once — Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and Walt Disney.
“You see so many pop artists putting out Christmas collections,” Trinh says. “And they all use the same arrangements. There is no soul there. My goal was to make an epic Christmas album with heart, to play it live in the studio with as many instruments and vocalists as possible.”
The sessions took place in the intimate confines of No BS Brass drummer Lance Koehler’s Minimum Wage Studio, the vibes-soaked epicenter of local music too vital to be called historic. Trinh ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in October that exceeded its $10,000 goal, raising $11,984. That paid for musicians, song rights, photographers, filmmakers and engineering and CD distribution. Trinh says video footage used for Kickstarter trailers has been submitted to WCVE as a documentary in hopes that it will air around the holidays.
“The budget was tough, there are over 60 musicians,” says Trinh, who works a daytime gig as an elementary school teacher and teaches ukulele classes. “I got no sleep, and whenever there was a recording date, I had roughly two days to write out two new arrangements, while running the Kickstarter campaign. Dealing with business and music at the same time is hard. For the most part, when we recorded that was the first time the musicians read the piece.”
The album opens with “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Trinh’s arrangement was a bracing, brass-knuckled opener for Emme St. James’ 2013 Christmas album. The new take, sung by Laura Ann Singh, has a far softer touch.
The original “Turn Your Tube On” is a Beach Boys-flavored, nostalgia-tinged salute to perennial holiday television shows. It’s followed by two reanimated ’60s artifacts of that televised tradition: “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” a hit for the cartoon “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” and “Christmas Time Is Here,” the Vince Guaraldi hit from the Charlie Brown special. Trinh is a heart-on-his-sleeve maximalist — even in the quieter moments, a crowd of ideas jostles in the background.
It all wraps up with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” The song starts simply, with Singh’s plaintive vocal and spare pizzicato strings, a children’s choir joins in, and then it’s all swept up in a tidal wave of horns and drums, pausing for a brief bit of guitar strumming, then relaunching into a five-minute coda. The extended ending builds contrapuntal melodies into a multitracked anthem far sunnier than Lennon’s more than vaguely dyspeptic original.
There are a lot of ingredients in Trinh’s cheery Christmas concoction, and not even a flyspeck of cynicism.
Samson Trinh will perform the Christmas album three times this season: at the Coalition Theater on Dec. 5, at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Dec. 11, and for the official CD release Dec. 19 at Ashland Coffee and Tea.