Christmas songs. You’ve heard them before. You’ll hear them again. But not quite in this way.
Lyn Stanley, the multi-talented producer, former marketing professional and competitive ballroom dancer, and singer of jazz standards has recently completed her ninth album – a fresh and creative approach to holiday music. As the title implies, Novel Noël: A Jingle Cool Jazz Celebration presents some Christmas “chestnuts” in arrangements that will help you enjoy them in imaginative new ways. And they’re not just for Christmas listening: ’tis the season to be jolly, but you’ll find glad tidings of comfort and joy on this recording that will give you pleasure throughout the year.
Writer John Stancavage introduced Lyn to readers of Part-Time Audiophile by saying, “Less than a decade ago, she was a retired marketing executive who had no professional singing experience – any singing experience, for that matter! Today, she’s an internationally-known jazz vocalist whose award-winning audiophile recordings feature A-list musicians, producers and engineers. While Stanley has carved a niche in the high-end world, her albums go far beyond clinical speaker-testing tools. They practically ooze a lush, emotional atmosphere that only happens on those rare occasions when great players are allowed to stretch out in a relaxed, inspired setting. Add to that a tasteful, intelligent singer who practically has ‘sultry’ permanently appended before her name, and you have a very attractive package.” 
Lyn has received critical acclaim from many influential high-end sources. For example, in his review of one of her earlier albums (Lost in Romance), Michael Fremer of Stereophile magazine noted, “…let’s start with how…she allowed her voice to be recorded…directly and at close range into the microphone and from there to the mix without ‘a net’ of a lot of reverb or any other kind of signal processing that can cover for less than perfect intonation and phrasing…. However you hear it, Ms. Stanley and the album are welcome throwbacks to the era of high concept album-making and gutsy, on-mic performance purity…. That is why I called this album ‘daring.’ Stanley gets in front of the microphone and you hear it all up close and very personal. From that intimate setting, like a figure skater going for the Gold, she takes chance upon chance, letting it all hang out and every time landing solidly on her feet.” 
Saul Levine of KKJZ, Los Angeles’ number one jazz radio station (Lyn was the station’s 2018 Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year) praised her “style and the talent for making iconic songs new again,” and the British audiophile magazine Hi-Fi Choice referred to her as “a jazz chanteuse with a voice to make you melt…not only someone with solid audiophile sensibilities, but also a denizen of the mixing desk and on a mission to ensure her music, beyond the live experience, can be enjoyed in the highest quality possible.” 
Not many jazz artists have such a deep understanding of how the best sound quality can affect a recording. Stanley “recognizes the importance of good sound to advancing a musical message and spares no expense to achieve this end. She’s hired veteran engineer Al Schmitt and mastering maven Bernie Grundman [both Grammy award winners] for all of her projects, books time at the best L.A. and New York City studios, and has paid A-list musicians to assist in realizing her ideas.” Working as her own producer, she’s “meticulous in her technical execution but takes chances artistically, which is a recipe for enduring success.” 
In other words, the better the sound in the studio, the better the sound you get at home.
“It’s crucial…modest systems will sing with an investment in a great recording. What you put in will dictate what you get out.  If you hire engineers that make a good living at what they do, they buy the best and they keep their equipment in tip-top condition at all times. It’s a mandate. Hire an engineer that has to rent his equipment and you are getting used equipment that does not have the same attention to detail. Use great studios that have high standards. When I record, I pay attention to the pianos in the studio now more than ever…. The same goes for my musicians – they know that the instruments they bring to play need to be in top shape when recording. That’s why studio musicians are the salt of the music earth; they know a bad-sounding instrument could mean no more work for them in recording sessions.” (Lyn Stanley)
I own several of the singer’s recordings and was looking forward to hearing her new Christmas program. In harmony with Lyn’s determination to provide the best sound possible, Novel Noël has been released in several formats: a double vinyl 45RPM album which includes a colorful LP-size booklet with production notes, original art, and comments about each song, 5.1 surround sound files, and DSD/CD files.  The recording has already received five medals from the 2022 Global Music Awards: three Gold medals (Female Vocalist, Producer, Album), and two Silver medals for Lyn’s original song, “Holy Night” (Female Vocalist, Holiday Music).
“The production of this album has been an incredible journey. It survived one of the most horrific events of our lifetime, namely a worldwide pandemic that sidetracked the train of life for most of us. Performers worldwide were hit hard as our normal lives ceased when air travel was grounded, and performance venues shut their doors. Some of us had to re-imagine our careers.
“The songs on this album are personal favorites or fan requests, and include a wide array that are themed holiday, Christmas, sentimental and, at the end of the sequence a couple of religious compositions to celebrate Christmas.
“I was driven to record this by my fans, who had been asking me, ‘Where’s your holiday album?’ Originally, I thought about doing a winter solstice-themed collection, and my vision was to try to cover all holidays, not just Christmas, celebrated by a variety of religions and traditions that time of year. I wanted to create a perennial recording that my fans around the world could enjoy. Over time, however, the project evolved to secular and Santa songs plus a handful of non-holiday classics that to me also capture the range of emotions people feel around the holidays.
“The season can also leave people feeling lonely if they’ve lost someone or are not with family and friends. This was especially true last Christmas, during the pandemic. On the celebratory side, I chose ‘Come Dance with Me’ not only as an ode to my other life as a former amateur champion ballroom dancer, but because when I was younger, I loved to go dancing on New Year’s Eve. I added a poignant introduction to Cole Porter’s ‘I Concentrate On You’ to convey the need to think of something joyful to combat loneliness and enjoyed performing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ from the female perspective, complete with a playful Santa reference towards the end.”  
One of the most imaginative arrangements is the band’s take on the Christmas favorite “The Little Drummer Boy” where the music and story are emphasized more than the well-worn “pa-rum-pa-pum-pums” and the percussion sound is (appropriately) especially realistic. The rhythm, reworked into a 5/4 time signature made famous by Paul Desmond’s jazz composition “Take Five” (which can be heard at the start of the track), sounds awkward at first but once you get used to it the adaptation becomes natural and engaging.
Other highlights include a rockin’, foot-tapping spin on the post-WWII classic “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” complete with backup singers, Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s “Christmas Waltz” featuring Bill Cunliffe on piano and performed in the style of a fast-paced Viennese Waltz, a Latin Samba version of the 1970s Carpenters’ hit “Merry Christmas Darling,” a take on the moving Christmas classic “Mary Did You Know” (it’s listed as a bonus track but is so poignant it should be promoted as an album highlight), and the very attractive “Holy Night” – Lyn’s initial, and successful, attempt at songwriting (more, please!).
Elusive Disc.com underscores two other selections “that collectively capture the joyful whimsy and lush, soulful romance at the heart of the 13-track recording – a sly, spirited romp through “Zat You Santa Claus?” which starts with her hilarious, dead-on impression of Louis Armstrong, and a dreamily sensual contemporary twist on [another] iconic Cahn/Styne classic, “It’s Magic,” originally popularized in the late ’40s by Doris Day.”
Allen Sides, the recording and mixing engineer for Novel Noël, sums up the album nicely: “This record is a true audiophile project…it sounds like it was done 35 years ago when budgets were at a premium for these kinds of sessions. Most of the mics we used were vintage tube condenser mics from the ’50s and ’60s. I can’t say enough about the musicians on the project. Chuck Berghofer is to me the greatest bassist in the world, the trumpet players were beyond imagination, and everyone on the sessions had such great fun getting out and participating on what I believe is one of the greatest holiday big band records I’ve ever heard. I have a fondness for the genre, and it was truly a privilege to work with Lyn and these musicians to bring her vision to life.”
This is Lyn’s first big band album; she usually records with only a few musicians. It’s offbeat and truly something different…an unusual journey for Lyn, the other performers, and the listener, created during a very difficult time. To echo Jeff Wilson’s comments in The Absolute Sound: “I’ve been enjoying the album tremendously. The arrangements are spot-on, and I like how they evoke for me a sort of golden era of arrangements and production. [Lyn’s] delivery is excellent, and the recording is so good that it really stands out. I listen to a lot of records that sound good but not that good.”
Note: Don’t judge the sound—however good—by what you hear using these links. I listened to the 45 RPM 180-gram vinyl version using an all-tube phono preamp and the sound, as expected, was impressive: wide, three-dimensional, and natural with unusually realistic vocals and instrumental solos. Brava!
 “The Audiophile’s Sultry Songbird,” Part-Time Audiophile, April 13, 2017.
 “Analog Planet,” Stereophile, Feb 11, 2014.
 Hi Fi Choice, May 2, 2018.
 Andrew Quint, “Lyn Stanley: Back Again, Better than Ever,” The Absolute Sound, Dec. 21, 2017.
 For more about this topic see “The Goldilocks Chronicles” in Copper Issue 154.
 Direct Stream Digital (DSD) is a high-resolution audio format for listeners who enjoy master studio quality recordings.
 “The Way You Look Tonight” brings to mind dance scenes from those Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies where Rogers’ gown sways, Astaire looks suave in his tuxedo, and both figures glide smoothly across the dance floor – scenes captured forever in glorious black and white.
 Quotes from Elusive Disc.com, 2022.
Header image courtesy of Lyn Stanley, photo by Mark Lewis.