Christmas never comes too early for Chicago pianist Willie Pickens: for five years running he’s produced a yuletide concert, and in 1998 he issued A Jazz Christmas (Southport), one of the least sentimental and most engaging holiday jazz albums ever. If you think of Christmastime tunes as either lacy raptures or happy-go-lucky toboggan rides, listen to what Pickens does to the likes of “Caroling, Caroling” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”: his monolithic chords and trampolining right-hand lines exploit the songs’ modal possibilities with force and urgency as well as glee. In person Pickens has his so-so nights, when his playing is merely solid, but he also has spectacular ones: belying his gracious, even meek demeanor, he bursts free of his self-imposed rhythmic constraints in a shower of sparks. (At this show, I expect the sparks.) On the album the fiery trumpet of Nicholas Payton plays the role of heraldic angel; at this concert, Randy Brecker’s horn will take that part. Brecker has an encyclopedic grasp of his instrument’s history and range, and his resume is just as broad: in the late 60s and early 70s he played with both Horace Silver and the proto-fusion group Dreams; in the 90s he’s been a member of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band; and on a slew of albums under his own name he’s consistently proved himself one of the top horn men of his generation. This year’s event–a benefit for Partners in Community Development–will also star singer Joanie Pallatto. The trio will be his regular group, with bassist Larry Gray and drummer Robert Shy. Friday, 8 PM, Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn; 773-363-6063. NEIL TESSER