Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Album of the Year?

With all the great new-music Christmas blogs out there, it's hard for a new Christmas release to slip by, especially a near great, nay, a great one.  When you suddenly discover one, though, it's akin to being whomped in the face with a herring by the Grand Champion of the Fish-Slapping Dance, or as they say in Finland "Tanssikuningas peitteli kasvot silakalla".  So, imagine my utter shock at discovering "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" by Mrs. Helen Marf on the tympani and her enclave of musicians.  Amazing doesn't begin to describe this masterpiece of seasonal songs.

Mrs. Helen Marf, legendary tympani player for Quilt Records in the 1960's, was approached by Quilt Records president Clancy Snarrup in 1966 about making a Christmas record, as a followup to her previous tympanic masterpieces released on the Quilt label.  Soon after, and following three strenuous days of recording, "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" was born.  Where has this album been all these years?  Finally, it is now available for Christmas music lovers everywhere.

It's fudging amazing, I'll tell you, fudging amazing.  It's tympani-led music to soothe the babes and quiet the barnyard beasts.  Or, as the French say:

Cette musique tympanique apaisera tous
les bébés en pleurs et fera taire les
animaux de la ferme.

The album opener, "Deck the Halls" is an exercise in precision and jazzy interpretation.  Drummer Golly Awkward keeps the beat as if he is a human manifestation of a Swiss watch, unerring in exactitude and the demands of Mrs. Helen Marf's arrangement.   Hempal Goozer III plays a cautious Hammond Organ, and Hubert Grackfellow an intensly restrained tubular bells.  Heaven!

"We Wish You a Marfy Christmas" introduces 1) Mrs, Helen Marf's joviality with the play-on-words song title, and 2) Larry Trimpletskzyk-Klamph on bongos, along with Maria Losa shakin' the sleigh bells.  You'll be craving a heaping serving of figgy pudding before the song ends!

Oh my - track 3 - "The First Noel", performed on solo tympani by Mrs. Helen Marf.  Only through the rhythmic explorations of unaccompanied tympani can the new depths of meaning be found in this classic olde Christmas carol, or as the Portuguese say "O solo do tympani acrescenta profundidade e significado à música natalina."  The solo ends far too soon for this Christmas-music lover.

On "Silent Night", guest vibraphonist Tina "The Ghost" Freena joins the cadre, and Hammond organist Hempal Goozer III is featured, but following Mr. Goozer's turn in the spotlight Mrs. Marf returns, driving the classic melody with reckless abandon and wild yet tamed tympani rolls, commanding attention yet paying respectful homage to Franz Gruber, or as the Germans say "eine Hommage an Franz Gruber".

"God Rest Ye, Marfy Gentlemen" - could this be an uncredited arrangement by the great Henry Mancini?  Whaaaat?

The true highlight of the album is "Jingle Bells".  Mrs. Helen Marf unleashed her inner tympanic Kraken in this performance.  You think, yes you do, that she is sticking strictly to the rhythm as written, when Whoa!  there's an eighth note pause and a slight syncopation.  OMG!  There's an extra tympani beat with what is probably a staccato, probably not an ultra-staccato, mallet.  The strokes and rolls drive the song, once again accompanied by Mr. Awkward and Ms. Losa.  Mrs. Helen Marf plays with untold virtuosity and confidence.  And, right at the 3:00 minute mark of the song, it sounds like Mrs. Marf is late on a beat.  But, to me, this is just another example of her sheer brilliance.  It sounds like a late beat, striking not on the quarter or the eighth or the sixteenth, but in that nether region that lies outside the rhythm.  Oh, it's purposeful, my friends.  It COMMANDS your attention, lest it has wandered.  It brings you back for the denoument of "Jingle Bells".  It's a journey to jazz and back, all in a single note, or as the Bulgarians say "Falshivata propusnata belezhka e sŭshtnostta na muzikalnata nirvana".

Now, I'm not one to make musical recommendations, not being an actual musician and all that, but I've listened to my fair share of Christmas music (and probably yours too). And, y'know, if Mrs. Helen Marf decides to get the band back together for one more Christmas album, or even a single, I think she should give Professor Z.Z. d'Bingle a call. Known as the Theremin Jedi of the Plains, Prof. d'Bingle's theremin mastery might give the next Marf tune that little extra push for Grammy to take notice.

Now for the good news - you too can share in the works of Mrs. Helen Marf. An unreleased version of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette" is on Soundcloud - here's the link: Bring a Torch.

And, you too can own your own copy of "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" You can buy a download on Bandcamp here: Marfy Xmas!!! You can even buy copies for your friends, which I think you should do.

And hey - here's the official promo video for "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!"  Youtube link  You know you have to go watch.

It's reported that Kansas City musician Jason Beers has some connection to this album....

The album is real, the review is for fun. Thanks Franny and Jason...


  1. OMG is right! Are you in my head, man? So much the same observations and sentiments - but you had so much more fun expressing them. Glad you enjoyed as much as I did. Helen Marf for President!

  2. That boy Jason Beers done a real good job a-diggin' this'un up. I like it pretty good. That lady can play them damn drums!

  3. Tongue, meet cheek...

    What fun! These arrangements give Ding Dong Dandy Christmas a run for the money. Thanks for pointing us to this one.

  4. Thanks for sharing! ❤❤❤ Merry Christmas ❤❤❤

  5. Prof. d,'Bingle might be busy, but I'm sure one of Mrs. Helen Marf's musical saw playing buddies might show up next year. Just sayin'.

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