Few have the vocal chops and suave delivery to reinvent classic material, but the debonair balladeer Downing, an ardent fan of Nat King Cole, puts an astonishingly fresh stamp on "The Christmas Song" with David Sanborn accompanying on alto sax. "The Little Drummer Boy" morphs into an island jam, "White Christmas" becomes a late-night groove with Kirk Whalum's tender jazz riffs and a Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica solo, and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" gets a salsa-tinged dance treatment. Beyond these standards, Brooklyn native Downing offers a few original tracks, including the future classic "Christmas Time After Time."
-- Edward M. Garnes Jr.
Will Downing plays Variety Playhouse Fri., Dec. 10, at 7 and 10 p.m. $36.50 each show.