CD Review: Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O


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This syndicated blog entry appears courtesy of Bebopified by Pamela Espeland. Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.

I'd rather hear jazz artists perform Christmas songs than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (way rather than Mannheim Steamroller or, just shoot me, Mariah Carey) and have somehow accumulated several holiday CDs over the years. You have to love “An Oscar Peterson Christmas" and Marcus Roberts' “Prayer for Peace," Chet Baker's icy-cool “Silent Nights," and the great Joe Williams' warm and swinging “That Holiday Feelin.'"

Actually, I thought I had all the Christmas jazz albums I would ever need, and then came “Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O," just out on Palmetto.

I've seen Matt Wilson play live several times and he always makes me happy. Some musicians—Dave Holland is another—exude genuine joy when they play, and when you're in the room, you feel it. “Christmas Tree-O" is a good-natured collection, and good-humored, putting “The Chipmunk Song" side-by-side with “Winter Wonderland," tossing in “Mele Kalikimaki" (in a surprising klezmer arrangement) and speeding through “Little Drummer Boy," a song that was utterly ruined for me the day I heard a plodding and deadly Celtic version. Each song is taken seriously as music, none is treated as a joke, and all are turned into real jazz, creative and unpredictable. Who else would merge Albert Ayler's “Angels" with “Angels We Have Heard on High" and add toy piano? Or turn Handel's revered “Hallelujah Chorus" into free jazz?

The “Tree-o" isn't Matt Wilson hipster talk for “Tree" (as I first thought, duh) but holiday speak for “trio": Matt on drums, Jeff Lederer on reeds, and Paul Sikivie on bass. Wilson gets his money's worth with Lederer, who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet. (Leder is also responsible for the toy piano.) He's not afraid to squawk and squeal.

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