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MM&W still kickin' it

By Medeski Martin and Wood

Blue Note Records: 2002

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This review first appeared in the Autumn 2002 issue of Turbula.

Ever since they first came charging onto the scene a decade ago, John Medeski Billy Martin and Chris Wood have been kicking it – and hard.

MM&W is one of those bands with a vision so clear that they create their own style. In their willingness to ignore convention, bend the rules and simply put the music first, they hearken back to Frank Zappa or The Turtles.

Stylistically, they're closer to Reuben Wilson – playing an edgy, organ-based groove jazz borrowing from R&B and soul. Being of a younger generation than Wilson, MM&W also borrow just as heavily from alternative rock and hip hop.

Still, the groove has always been what defined their music, and that holds true on their most recent release as well.

In fact, "I Wanna Ride You" may have the most focused rhythmic figures of any song they've recorded to date. What's interesting is that if you listen to the individual components of the performance – say, Martin's drum – there's nothing particularly intense about it. He kind of lopes along on the rhythm, with a relaxed beat. Wood's bass is likewise fairly constrained by itself. But add them into Medeski's insistent organ lead, and the end result is a profoundly intense song. That's a trick Basie was good at, too – listen to his classic recording of "April in Paris" and each element is fully relaxed. The end result will yank you right out of your chair and onto the dance floor – a reaction similar to what MM&W pull off here.

The trio does continue to experiment here – as always. The third track, "Your Name is Snake Anthony," is built around the narrative of Col. Bruce Hampton, with all kinds of weird special effects and opera singing and meter changes thrown in behind him. It all sounds a bit like the acid psycho blues of Little Axe or The Boneshakers – which is hardly a bad thing.

They even manage to sound like New Orleans' fabled funk unit, The Meters, on "Pappy Check" – that is, if The Meters ever had a dj scratching on their albums.

If "Uninvisible" doesn't seem as daring or out-there as previous MM&W releases, it may be because they've spoiled us for so long that we now have expectations that even they can't meet. But it's a heck of a solid album, with some good songs and their always-stellar playing.