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Published: 2017/12/27
by Brandon Findlay

Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O

Photo credit Brandon Findlay

It would be foolish to dismiss Matt Wilson and his holiday happymakers as lesser than promised – once Jeff Lederer channels King Curtis utterly destroying “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” one realizes there is no joke, only joy, to be had. And frankly, that’s as fine a Christmas gift as a stranger can give.

It likely proves troubling for some to enthuse over a Christmas show, as there is something . . . askew . . . when the holidays feel too hip. And there is no doubt that the not-so-little-drummer boy enjoys the skew as much as the hipness, as do his bandmates, the aforementioned Lederer on various reed instruments, and bassist Paul Sikivie. In lesser hands, with lesser hearts, this would have been a long night of song-as-punchline. Yet, these three kings of abstract orientation afar treated two sets of Christmas favorites as if they were jazz standards, a decision imbuing dignity as much as forbidding kitsch.

Joyously wondering as they wander somewhere between Branford Marsalis’ Trio Jeepy and Brian Setzer’s “Yabba Dabba Yuletide,” joy is the key to the brilliance that emerges here, which evokes, unironically, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell were the virtuosic acrobats, but bassist Noel Redding was the harmonic, rhythmic ringmaster. The superb Sikivie dons that tophat well, with greater responsibilities and requisite chops. As Lederer and Wilson freewheel towards their next trapeze, it is the bassy reharmonizations and melodic counterpoints that complete the sleight of hand.

And there is magic here. They transition instantly with dissonant surprise, and re-enter via seeming telepathy. Somehow the clarinet finds modernity. They laugh like they’re reckless, but they play as if life is short. And Matt Wilson is certifiably filthy on all strikable surfaces.

Highlights include “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a breathy lament rendered ala Coltrane’s “Alabama;” the beautiful experimentation of Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall;” and the absolutely ripping “Si Me Dan Pastelas -> Happy Xmas,” a stretch of music worth full adoration – much like the rest of this percussive, masterful daredeviltry.

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