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A traditional Malay Christmas

1 Voice - Six Strings - 12 Days of Christmas
1 Voice – Six Strings – 12 Days of Christmas
By Double Take

Bunyigitar Music: 2005

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This review first appeared in Turbula in November 2005.

If the holiday of Christmas is Christianity's gift to the world, jazz is America's.

And now Malaysia is returning the gift, with a lovely bow on top.

When last we heard from Malaysia's jazz duo of Double Take two years ago, singer Mia Palencia had just turned 19 – yet already displayed vocal chops most jazz singers won't achieve in four times that age. Guitarist Roger Wang, not yet 30, displayed a mastery of the six-string that practically demanded comparisons to American jazz wizards Tuck Andress and Joe Pass.

For their sophomore release, the two south Asians have turned to ... jazz interpretations of Christmas music. Really.

Okay, it may seem an odd choice – but is it really any odder than two kids from Sabah, Malaysia playing American jazz in the first place?

And hearing Mia and Roger nail a medley of "All I Want for Christmas / Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in a gorgeous arrangement equal parts jazz and pop clears away any worries about cultural authenticity, replacing them the pure delight of listening to these young but masterful musicians performing their craft with as much talent, elegance and, well, fun, as anyone stateside.

In addition to the traditional songs – those mentioned above, plus "Sleigh Ride," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Deck the Halls" and "Rudolph" – Double Take lays down some lovely versions of more jazz-oriented songs like Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And Roger turns in a spellbinding solo guitar reading of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."

But best of all, Palencia has written two new Christmas songs – "The Turkey, Me and the Christmas Tree" and "The Christmas I Know," the latter being the first Christmas song about Malaysia these Western ears have yet heard. Both are beautifully melodic, and seem destined to become new holiday standards.

Mia Palencia and Roger Wang are among the most remarkable young talents most Americans have never heard; Palencia sings with the utter abandon and pure tone of a young Ella Fitzgerald, while Wang's acoustic guitar playing is original, imaginative and virtuosic. That they've turned in one of the most delightful holiday collections ever recorded will surprise no one who heard their first album.