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Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O: Tiny Desk Concert

For all the heartwarming feelings it encourages, Christmas clearly has a campy side. Your aunt's purpose-built sweater, sappy televised Christmas specials, the house on your block which outdid itself decorating yet again: Anything with such tradition breeds tacky offshoots. Of course, Christmas music often treads this territory, too. Where would we be without malls piping delightfully schlocky retreads of seasonal anthems? (Here's looking at you, Mariah Carey's Christmas album.)

The extraordinary jazz drummer Matt Wilson seems to know that camp is part of the holiday's appeal. He recently recorded a new album of Christmas favorites new and old with two other musicians; the band and the record are both thusly called — what else? — Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O. (Dig that bargain-bin cover art, too.) And the Tree-O showed up for its Tiny Desk Concert with both a pink tinsel tree and an animatronic singing Santa hat.

The band's artifice may be a bit hokey, but its musicianship isn't. With only a snare drum and ride cymbal, Wilson kept an impressively varied but deep swinging pocket, along with "wonder boy" Paul Sikivie on bass. Meanwhile, Wilson's longtime associate, reedman Jeff Lederer, stole the show on three different horns. There was gonzo tenor sax expressionism in "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," playful clarinet staccato in "O Come All Ye Faithful" (also featuring "the NPR tabernacle choir" singing along), and a crazed, squawking reading of the most famous part of Handel's Messiah leading into a shrill "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on piccolo.

There's a deep grounding in jazz for this — for taking threadbare or overplayed melodies and transforming them into creative art of the highest order — as well as long-standing precedents of outgoing, personable showmen.

So there have been Matt Wilsons before: obviously talented individuals, genuinely committed to their art, naturally inclined to elfin mischief. But to date, none of them have ever played Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concerts. And we're happy to pass along the Christmas Tree-O's gift to you.

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