Friday, October 5, 2007
Medeski Martin and Wood Rock The Music Hall of Williamsburg-October 5, 2007 (Greenpoint-Williamsburg Gazette)
Medeski Martin and Wood, one of the hottest jazz trios in the world, played to a raucous, packed house at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last Thursday night. John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and percussion, and Chris Wood on double bass and bass guitar played a two set, one encore show that lasted approximately three hours from start to finish, leaving the sold out crowd still wanting more.
Medeski Martin and Wood, or MMW as they're known to their fans, have been playing together since 1991 in D.U.M.B.O., Brooklyn. Medeski and Wood, students at Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, decided to move to New York City, with intent to explore the late-night underworld of the city's burgeoning jazz scene. Bob Moses, who had performed with both John Medeski and Chris Wood, and was Billy Martin's instructor, introduced the three to each other. Their first performances together were at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village.
Throughout the early nineties, the trio toured and recorded their first albums. Their music, chemistry, and performance style were all cultivated through their routine of playing all the New York jazz hot spots, touring the northeast, and recording. The three formed a strong musical relationship as well as friendship in those years that stays with them today.
The three musicians were looking to create music that reflected who they were, individually and collectively. They experimented with contemporary hip-hop beats and other non-traditional sounds. Their aim was to stay as dedicated to their sense of creativity as possible and trust their instincts, "In the beginning, as it is now, we went by gut instinct," said Chris Wood. "We have a natural connection between us, as people and as musicians, and we just let things flow in whatever direction they went."
MMW is renowned for their ability to improvise, and that is exactly how they opened the show. They started by having a conversation with their instruments for the first ten minutes, exploring the sounds they were all capable of making. Eventually, Chris Wood initiated a groove with the bass playing a repeating line for the first time. Billy Martin then supported it on the drums, and they immediately established an extremely deep pocket.
That was the pattern the entire first set followed--they would improvise for a while, feel each other out, say what they had to say, and then kick back into a deep groove. What impressed me the most about the trio was their transitions. They would seamlessly change from a ten-minute long free improvisational conversation to a hard groove perfectly time after time.
Developing and playing together for the last sixteen years has allowed for them to play flawlessly in sync with each other. They know exactly how much space to give each other and how to feed off of one another. It was as if they would take turns rotating who would explore and who would keep the groove established. Most of the time it was John Medeski on piano exploring, but from time to time, he would play a riff on the piano or organ and let Chris Wood take an elongated solo. It was as if the two of them would keep the third on a leash while they wandered around investigating their sound.
Medeski and Wood both utilized acoustic as well electronic sounds extremely effectively. Medeski switched on and off between his grand piano, electric organ, synthesizer, and melodica frequently. He would even utilize them together in a call and response format. Wood switched between his upright bass and electric bass. Both utilized distortion effects as well, stretching the scope of sounds one might expect to hear.
The second set was more groove oriented than the first. It featured slightly less improvisation and more lively rhythms. Medeski did less exploring and more jamming, playing more consistently melodically as well as rhythmically. It was as if they wanted to push things and make people feel uncomfortable in the first set, and then they wanted to make everybody dance in the second.
Towards the end of the show, they covered two jazz standards. The first was "Mercy mercy mercy" a tribute to the recently deceased Joe Zawinul who wrote the song with Cannonball Adderly in the 60's. The second was "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles which they played during the encore. They played both songs in their own distinctive way making their own mark on the songs exactly as you'd expect.
MMW is one of the biggest names to play at the newly opened Music Hall of Williamsburg yet. They have an enormous following in Brookyln, their hometown. The crowd was pumped before the first note was played, and they left satisfied. My roommate, Jake Lewis, toured with MMW as a sound technician last summer, and he said the show rated as one of the best he'd seen them play. I own several of their albums, but it was my first time seeing them live. I was extremely impressed. Not only was their performance progressive and free, it also managed to keep a steady consistency and cohesiveness to it. MMW is a world-renowned act, so next time you get the opportunity, do yourself a favor and check them out.