Perspectives: Medeski Martin and Wood
Notes From The Underground
Accurate Records CD AC-5010, 1992
John Medeski, piano, horn arrangements; Billy Martin, drums and percussion;
Chris Wood, bass; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Thomas Chapin, alto sax, alto
flute; Doug Yates, bass clarinet; Bill Lowe, tuba, trombone; Curtis
Hasselbring, trombone; Gloria Tropp, vocals
It's A Jungle In Here
Gramavision CD R2 79495, 1993
John Medeski, organ, piano, horn arrangements; Billy Martin, drums and
percussion; Chris Wood, bass; Steven Bernstein, trumpet, flugelhorn; Josh
Roseman, tuba, trombone; Jay Rodriguez, tenor and alto saxophones; Dave Binney,
alto saxophone; Marc Ribot, guitar
friday afternoon in the universe
Gramavision CD GCD 79503
John Medeski, organs, piano, wurlitzer, clavinet; Billy Martin, drums and
percussion; Chris Wood, acoustic bass, harmonica, wood flute
These guys do get around. Alumni of David Byrne, Bob Moses, Jon Lurie's Lounge
Lizards, the Either/Orchestra, Dewey Redman and Marc Ribot, John Medeski,
Billy Martin, and Chris Wood are now truly on their own with the recent release
of "friday afternoon in the universe." Aptly titled, I think. It's not hard to
imagine them as a small solar system. Billy Martin as sun/drummer, radiant
source of all energy, orbited by earth/bassist Chris Wood, with the very lunar
keyboardist John Medeski in wild, semicircular, ecliptical pursuit. "friday
afternoon in the universe" follows two earlier MMW records, "Notes From The
Underground" and "It's A Jungle In Here." Together, the three albums chronicle the
development of the trio from nearly funky, chromatic experimentation, into the
cool, and right out the back end into some heavy instrumental funksion.
"Notes From The Underground," the earliest release, finds Medeski on piano with
Martin, Wood, a handful of horns and occasional vocals recorded live to DAT.
They come together to tackle some original jazz compositions and few tunes by
the likes of Wayne Shorter and Duke Ellington. The treatments tend to be long
and experimental, allowing the players to stretch out, often simultaneously.
They occasionally lock into some funky grooves, foreshadowing the trio sound
that fully develops on universe, but for the most part, Medeski turns in
sparse, atmospheric, chromatic sprinklings and leaves the driving to Martin and
Wood. He's all fingers on this one, but you leave suspecting that he can play
with his fists. Notes also introduces the mysterious "Uncle Chubb," whom we
meet again on "universe."
It's a good thing I heard "It's a Jungle In Here" before "Notes." While "Notes" is
interesting, I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way looking for more MMW.
This would have been a shame, because they explode exquisitely on "Jungle."
Medeski discovers the organ, simultaneously supercharging the rhythm section
and setting his chromatic musings off on an intertimbral galactic voyage.
Again, the record is mostly original jazz, but they back way off on the
skronkadelic experimentation. The result is funky, stratospheric, and
undeniably second-line infectious.
The horn section returns, too, this time reading some sublime arrangements by
Medeski (kudos to producer Jim Payne for letting you feel the air move).
They're put to particularly good use on the Monk/Marley(!) medley "Bemsha
Swing"/"Lively Up Yourself" and King Sunny Ade's "Moti Mo." "Jungle" also marks
Medeski's introduction of the Wurlitzer electric piano. Savor it. There aren't
many chances to hear it like this in the wild. Check it out on the Medeski
Sanford & Son tune "Wiggly's Way." They had me beggin' for more by the time the
drawer popped on this one.
Which brings us to "friday afternoon in the universe," almost all original, and
almost only trio. Take the acoustic experimentation on "Notes," electrify it,
heavy up the grooves from "Jungle" and you get most of the picture.
Throughout, Billy Martin and Chris Wood lay it
down - period - leaving Medeski free to roam, wah-wah pedals strapped to both feet
and a Clavinet now riding shotgun for the Wurlitzer and organ. (All superbly
recorded by David Baker. - Glenn) The grooves get thicker and the sound much more
aggressive, but I miss the horns and the cool of "Jungle." The whole thing feels
kind of scattered, with lots of energy directed in too many directions, such as
the short, almost ambient, pieces tossed in between the regular-size tunes. We
meet Uncle Chubb again on "Chubb Sub," though. This was the tune that
originally hooked me on these guys. I wish the rest of the record hooked as
Bottom line is that these guys are fabulous players. My guess is that their
brand of instrumental jazz/funk will appeal mostly to musicians (you'll find
them hanging around near the front of the stage, slackjawed at MMW's
frighteningly impressive set of superbly synchronized chops). If Phish are the
thinking-person's Grateful Dead, MMW just might be the Meters for Nobel
laureates. -- Jason Staczek
Glenn Brooks says... Catch these guys live if you have the chance. They're just as
likely (maybe more likely) to play rock/dance venues as jazz clubs, where they
can propel the crowd to a sweating good time. There is also a sense of
over-the-top risk taking that is somewhat missing from their CDs. Oh, yeah - try
to find a spot where you can see John Medeski pummel the keyboards.
of related interest
David Fiuczynksi/John Medeski
Lunar Crush, 1994, Gramavision CD GCD 79498
hardcore fans are directed to
the MMW home page