June 2005

Medeski Martin and Wood
June 27, 2005Star StageToronto
Report by Joyce Corbett with Photos by Roger Humbert
These three musicians first played together in a jam session in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1991 and instantly clicked. Their music seems to grow and take shape in the same kind of natural way. Although they all work with other musicians on separate projects, they have remained committed to the continuation and evolution of their self-named trio, Medeski, Martin and Wood (original moniker Coltrane’s Wig) and now have 14 CDs under that name.
John Medeski
They cite Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman among their influences. What they admire about these musician/composers is their creativity, the uniqueness of their respective bodies of work and their ability to bring together musicians capable of getting inside the music and improvising on the spot.

The variety of musicians they have worked with — Marshall Allen, John Scofield, Tom Waitts, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Marc Ribot, John Zorn, DJ Logic to name a few — demonstrates that they are carrying on that exploratory and pioneering spirit as does the fact that their all-time best-selling CD, Shack-Man, was recorded in a remote jungle area of Hawaii using solar power and generators.

This night, the stage is set with an impressive amount of equipment. Some of it belongs to the opening band, Folk Alarm Trio, which lives up to its name with an alarmingly loud attack off the top and a kind of electric mandolin hoedown for the second number before a relaunch of more hard-edged, heavy-hitting rock material.

As Medeski, Martin and Wood take the stage, most of those who are sitting leave their seats to stand with the expectant crowd in the chairless middle of the tent. Medeski sits on the right like a wizard presiding over the banks of keyboards and equipment that surround him; Martin sits on the left with his drum kit and an impressive array of exotic percussion instruments, and Wood holds the centre with his basses. The uniquely warm and resonant yet percussive sound of wood hitting wood starts the evening off as Martin plays a marimba-type instrument. The bass joins and the scent of something organic suddenly blows through the tent. Medeski embellishes the base with his electronic wizardry. Red and blue pinwheel lighting complete the mood.

Chris Wood
The music at this concert relies heavily on electronics yet retains a warm and funky feeling. MMW have been playing together now for 14 years and have developed a deep intuitive musical connection that allows them to freely improvise large sections of their performance. They do not follow set lists and there is no superstar band leader. Close collaboration creates a hypnotic musical experience. Audience and music pulse together.

Billy Martin
Always in the moment, MMW delve in and out of sounds and styles. A rumba cha cha cha is followed by a heavy blues. Avant-garde improvisation floats over strong grooves, the audience never stops moving, it all just feels so good. All musical forms and eras seem to have been digested by these magicians and re-emerge in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of their music. Think rave, think hippies, think 50s hepcats and hip hoppers. Think jazz, blues, world music, Hendrix, the Doors, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Not a purée but a series of endlessly shifting soundscapes. Eclectic yet accessible. Maybe Gus had it, the rhythm, the pulse, is the key.
As Billy Martin presents the bandmembers, the end is feared, but then, they move into “Queen Bee”. Texas Radio and the Big Beat ride the storm. The encore? “End of the World Party (just in case)”. Can I get a witness? Are you experienced?
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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