Matt Wilson Credit: courtesy the artist

Few jazz musicians combine love of tradition with mordant wit like drummer and bandleader Matt Wilson. That combination is perfectly suited to his Christmas Tree-O project, which sanguinely essays holiday themes—both classic and schmaltzy—with gusto and ardor. But as the group established on its entertaining eponymous 2010 album, it isn’t above tweaking the material too. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to even consider playing “The Chipmunk Song”—whose very title sends shivers of pitch-shifted whining down my spine—but by treating it with a lurching rhythmic attack and an even more wild, rheumy bass clarinet voice (courtesy of the versatile Jeff Lederer), the trio imparts an acidic bite that showcases the tune on a strictly musical level. A sly take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” plays up the song’s inherent theatricality without becoming a parody. Most of the material is interpreted with a more generous touch; there’s a snappy, almost sock-hop feel to “Winter Wonderland,” while the group echoes the approach of Chicago reedist Mars Williams by braiding Albert Ayler’s lovely “Angels” with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” A hurtling explosion of the Vince Guaraldi ballad “Christmas Time Is Here” retains the melody’s tender beauty, while Lederer’s hearty tenor rips it into shreds. Wilson understands that much of this material can drive people crazy, and it’s to his credit that the trio routinely meets listeners halfway, turning in performances that use inescapable themes as a launchpad for what a good jazz band does best—improvise. And as with all Wilson projects, it’s also fun as hell. Bassist Martin Wind rounds out the group.   v