For more than a decade, Mars Williams has been making (to borrow a phrase) Christmas music great again. He does so by exchanging the saccharine for the sublime, intersecting holiday classics with the music of Albert Ayler. Born out of his Chicago Ayler repertory band which can be heard on Witches, Klaus Kugel, Mark Tokar, and Knox Chandler.
His traveling Ayler concept materializes here with differing bands, one in Chicago and another in New York City. The two bands cover the same music, but not really. Williams allows, better yet favors, each performance to take whatever shape his fellow musicians choose. An artist can switch from Ayler's "Spirits" to the the traditional Christmas composition "Carol Of The Bells" as they do in Chicago or "Jingle Bells" in NYC. The music isn't so much a mash-up as a recognition that Albert Ayler's use of national anthems, military band marches together with his hymn-like creations were part and parcel of a universal sound. A natural addition to that list is Xmas music.
The Chicago unit made up of his Witches and Devils ensemble adds violin, cello, and on "Did You Hear They Found Light In Darkness Looking For Chestnuts?," Keefe Jackson's baritone blowing through Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" after the ghostly echoes of Ayler's "Light In Darkness." NYC is, with the exception of Williams, a completely different band, with a totally different vibe. Nels Cline and Fred Lonberg-Holm are keen to 'F' stuff up while trombonist Steve Swell plays foil to Williams' Ayler throughout. The burning core of Ayler's music and the mix of Xmas tunes heard on "The HanukahXmas March Of Truth For 12 Days Of Jingling Bells With Spirits in NYC" is an aggressive gut punch at those "Twelve Days Of Christmas." Same for "Noel OmegaChange Has Come For The Three Kings Who Lit The Tiny Candles In NYC," where pugnacity is met with equal amounts of bellicosity, pausing only for outer space atmospherics before a rocking dervish of a conclusion.
Mars Williams reminds us all that we should remember to keep Ayler in Xmas.
(CD1) Chicago: The Hanukah—Xmas March Of Truth For 12 Days Of Jingling Bells With Spirits In Chicago; The Heavenly Home Bashing Of The Bells; Noel Omega—Change Has Come For The Three Kings Who Lit The Tiny Candles In Chicago; Did You Hear They Found Light In Darkness Looking For Chestnuts? (CD2) N.Y.C.: The Hanukah—Xmas March Of Truth For 12 Days Of Jingling Bells With Spirits in NYC; Noel Omega—Change Has Come For The Three Kings Who Lit The Tiny Candles In NYC.