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NYC-based drummer Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O landed in San Diego last night to deliver two sets of fractured Holiday classics that ranged from the hard swinging to blistering free jazz and comic-strip joviality, sometimes in the course of the same tune.

Wilson has loads of chops, and an incredible sense of flow, which allows him to demarcate any given rhythm with the tiniest of gestures. He's got a wide swath of dynamic control, and can hover on the edge of silence with barely audible brushstrokes or conjure waves of kinetic energy into a delicious din of chaos.

Opening with a barrelhouse stagger through "Winter Wonderland," tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer activated a strange mix of Ben Webster meeting Albert Ayler over drinks, riding on the impeccable Fats Domino bass lines of Paul Sikivie, who drew a huge sound from an undersized "travel-bass". Wilson, known for his slapstick sense of humor, pounded out the melody on his drumset in a kind of vaudevillian challenge.

Lederer switched to soprano for a raw, skittering waltz time stretch on "The Chipmonk's Theme," evoking a dry cough timbre and alternating between rough-sawn idea layering and slap-tongue punctuations. Sikivie emerged with patient line building, pulling a gorgeous baritone sigh from each note and concentrating on melodic development over alacrity. Wilson drummed up an unexpected squall of volume to end the out-vamp on a nervous skein of pure energy.

"Christmas Time Is Here," began as a swinger fueled by the swirling brush work of Wilson until Lederer shot into an altissimo caterwaul that sounded like he was trying to wrap a screaming infant in swaddling clothes. If that infant were Glenn Spearman, maybe.

There was an exaggerated, almost drunken stomp through the reading of "8 Candles," where Wilson led the audience through an eight-bar countdown as Lederer wound increasingly atonal ornaments around the theme, and an almost reverent unraveling of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," that brought a pointed bass exploration from Sikivie, as haunted phrases danced around groaning whole-notes.

Lederer leaned into "Hark The Herald Angels Sing," with a raw, Sonny Rollins kind of attack--rippling arpeggios sandwiched by piercing squeals and multiphoned honks. Somehow, that morphed into a cover of Albert Ayler's "Angels," where Wilson dragged handfuls of shells along the surface of his drums and Lederer wailed away with mocking vibrato.

Overall impression? If you must subject yourself to Christmas music--do it with Matt Wilson at the helm.

Another winner for Dan Atkinson and the folks at Athenaeum Jazz.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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