Jelly Home

all the articles, back to 1995

what’s Jelly got to do with it?

The Jelly Jar
factoids, jokes & links

search / tips


Buy now at

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 hard.

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

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.