Groove blenders 

Things aren't just Phish-y with Medeski Martin & Wood

click to enlarge Medeski Martin & Wood: beloved by jazz purists and - stinky hippies.
  • Medeski Martin & Wood: beloved by jazz purists and stinky hippies.

Jazz purists view magic-in-the-moment experiences with reverence. You know, this is where, to quote Jim Morrison, "the future is uncertain and the end is always near."

Medeski Martin & Wood, a cherished high-wire act, hold improvisation in high regard. However, they don't take too many chances in describing what they do.

"Some things we'll just make up on the spot," says Chris Wood, calling from New York City. "We call it spontaneous composition, or crazy make-'em-ups. Whatever you want to call it."

While "crazy make-'em-ups" may sound more like a type of Fruit Roll-Up or the latest Xbox game, the truth is, this willingness to explore the unknown has become Medeski Martin & Wood's calling card over the last 15 years. In fact, the decidedly jazz or post-bop trio has attracted the unlikeliest of followings with its extended jams.

Legend has it that Medeski Martin & Wood played one show in the mid-'90s with Phish, which from then on played the jazz band's music before coming on stage. That little zygote of attention blossomed into something much bigger and equally surprising.

"We certainly do get lumped into the jam-band scene," Wood said. "In some ways it's a bonus, and in some ways it's a drag to be pigeonholed in any kind of way."

Pegged early on as purveyors of acid jazz, Medeski Martin & Wood have continually moved forward and experimented with impunity. They've played with acoustics, groove-oriented aesthetics, free jazz styles and funk elements.

In recent years, trio members have further spread their wings to take on other projects. For Wood, it's a new project with his brother Oliver, whose rsum includes singing for the popular Southeast band King Johnson. The Wood Brothers' debut album, Ways Not to Lose, was released this past winter.

While Medeski Martin & Wood diehards may not be sure what to make of The Wood Brothers' singer-songwriter motif and Americana style, Wood says it's provided him with a creative outlet that keeps him fresh.

Change is also in the air for Medeski Martin & Wood, which has ended its seven-year relationship with Blue Note Records. The recently released retrospective Note Bleu: Best of the Blue Note Years 1998-2005 spans five albums with a deluxe-edition DVD, including obligatory nuggets such as rare audio tracks, music videos, concert footage and documentaries.

The threesome has grand plans to release more material more often on its own label. Already on the calendar is a collaborative project with jazz guitarist John Scofield and a children's disc, both of which are scheduled for fall street dates.

All told, it's a new day for Medeski Martin & Wood.

"This was something we've been thinking about doing for a long time, and are excited about," Wood says. "It's finally the right time. This is it."


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