- Tie one on with Medeski Martin and Wood on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 32 Bleu.
During the summer of 1991, Billy Martin invited John Medeski and Chris Wood down to his loft to rehearse for an informal gig at the Village Gate in New York City. Little did any of them know that the rehearsal would mark the beginning of the most powerful keys-bass-drums jazz trios of the past 25 years.
All three had been playing around wherever they could in places like Boston, Florida and even Israel, though none of them had been a part of any lasting musical endeavor. But, when they played together that first time in Martin's loft, they could feel an unexplainable chemistry flowing between them. The musicians have described the vibe they felt at the time as "very natural, very organic and very strong."
From that moment on, the three had no plan but to simply make music. They didn't have actual songs in the beginning and improvisation was, and still is, a big part of their act. Taking the suggestion of a friend, they decided to just use their last names to identify the band. Martin picked the order and Medeski Martin and Wood was born.
They embarked on a few small tours across the northeast and after a few months released their debut, Notes From The Underground, on the independent Hap-Jones Records.
With a full-length album and numerous performances under their belts, Medeski Martin and Wood (or MMW as they are often called) soon helped redefine the downtown New York City jazz scene.
In 1993, MMW secured a record deal with Gramavision Records. The deal bound the group together and they soon began a regiment of near-constant touring throughout North America. They took a mere four days break during the 1994 tour to record the breakthrough Friday Afternoon In The Universe, the album that has come to define their sound.
Their newest, Uninvisible, brings more of their signature brand of groove-oriented jazz.
As usual, a plethora of guest artists sit in on this record. The horn section of the New York City Cuban-Jazz collective Antibalas adds a taste of Caribbean flavor to the album; Colonel Bruce Hampton of the Aquarium Rescue Unit offers a bizarre spoken word performance of the ultra-mellow track "Your Name is Snake Anthony"; and DJs Olive and P Love cut it up all over the turntables.
Watching MMW perform is equally as impressive as listening to their albums.
Medeski's face contorts as if he's screaming the notes to himself while flailing his arms around his keyboards, organs and synthesizers like a mad scientist.
Martin creates percussion masterpieces by beating on anything within his reach, including small pieces of glass and scrap metal that he has adopted and integrated into his drum kit.
All the while Wood, always positioned between his band mates, stands thumping away infectious lines on either an electric or stand-up bass. Cool as ice, he simply bobs his head up and down like a human metronome during songs.
MMW isn't showing any sign of slowing down. With 13 releases as a trio and numerous side and solo projects, there's no doubt the group will continue to wow audiences and defy expectations with their trademark downtown New York jazz.
-- Grayson Mendenhall
Medeski Martin and Wood
32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.
Sunday, Feb. 22 at 9 p.m., $20-$25
Call 955-5664 or go to www.32bleu.com