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The Telegram
  • Medeski, Martin & Wood pick up where they left off

  • John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood play together less these days than they used to, but that’s by design. “It’s worked out this way organically,” said bassist Wood. “We have been doing this for quite a long time so it’s kind of like riding a bike in some ways."

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  • John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood play together less these days than they used to, but that’s by design. Twenty-one-year-old units, especially tight-knit, intensely simpatico jazz trios, need to separate and return to preserve freshness and ensure they aren’t just recycling past glories.
    Maybe that’s the reason that in its third decade of existence, Medeski Martin & Wood is still an improvisational powerhouse, as vigorous and unpredictable as ever despite all its road miles and a full body of recorded music that has traversed so much sonic terrain already.
    “It’s worked out this way organically,” said bassist Wood in a recent interview. “We have been doing this for quite a long time so it’s kind of like riding a bike in some ways. I’m amazed at how we can not see each other for weeks at a time then get on the road, and it feels like we just picked up where we left off. It took us a long time to get to that point, but I think part of it is just growing up and getting down to the music when the time comes.”
    In that regard, MMW are much like the jazz legends they revere, Wood said.
    “I think of the Keith Jarrett trio. He and Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, I can’t imagine they see each other much, and yet they can go out on the road and get right to the music,” he said. “That’s an inspiration, watching people able to do that. And when you have that, it makes it work out to do other things.”
    MMW’s October tour will be all-acoustic, with Medeski primarily on piano and Wood on the stand-up bass. MMW tried the acoustic format for an entire tour in 2007, and it’s been a sought-after setting for fans of the trio ever since.
    “Sonically, when we do an electric show, people want it to be a dance party, and it tends to be louder and funkier,” Wood said. “Once you set the precedent, however, that it’s going to be the acoustic piano trio, people realize this is going to be more of a concert to sit and listen to. We really like that. It’s great and a lot of fun to play funky music and rock out for people, but performing in a concert style, that gives you a chance to play some really subtle musical ideas.”
    Along with the tour, MMW is promoting “Free Magic,” a five-track release collecting live highlights from that 2007 acoustic stretch. It's an absorbing listen; more recent MMW originals like “Doppler” and “Blues for Another Day” mix with older material, like a 16-minute exploration of 1993’s “Where’s Sly,” and a closing progression from Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square” into a MMW staple, Sun Ra’s “Angel Race.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “Sometimes it’s hard to listen to music you’ve just recorded and to tour on that a lot, because you don’t have perspective,” Wood said. “It took years before we were finally able to sit around and listen to all that music, multi-track these different shows and sift through them.”
    MMW’s three principals are all busy, but unlike Medeski and drummer/percussionist Martin, who’ve lent their talents to a number of projects, collaborations and sit-ins, it’s Wood who’s nurtured another, fully-realized band over the past decade. That would be the Wood Brothers, which launched in 2004 as an acoustic duo with his brother, guitarist and singer Oliver, but is now a full band covering a broad swath of Americana, from blues and roots to folk-jazz and country.
    New from the Wood Brothers are two live releases, May’s Sky High and last month’s Nail & Tooth. Both represent their first recordings with Nashville drummer and former Gabe Dixon Band member Jano Ricks, who joined the band officially in 2010.
    “He’s also a very proficient keyboard player and singer so he’s a triple threat,” Wood said. “The full band allows us to do three-part harmonies, rock out, or get real spare and do stuff more reminiscent of how the Wood Brothers started out, which was acoustic, unplugged type stuff. It’s been really fun to develop the show, and we’re writing new music to take to the studio.”
     
     
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