By: Andrew Bruss
Medeski Martin & Wood are arguably the most prolific jazz trio of our time, and when they team up with jazz-guitar icon John Scofield, the quality of their work shatters whatever glass ceiling their fans and critics perceive to exist. Each member of MMW is regularly balancing their relationship with the trio alongside various other projects, and while their work with Scofield might very well be their best, it’s a rare occasion that the four instrumental virtuosos get to plant their roots and dig deep.
|Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood|
Their first studio collaboration was the trio’s supporting role on Scofield’s 1998 release, A Go Go, and the quartet has released one album as Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, 2006’s Out Louder.
While fans may feel like these guys only get together once in a blue moon, they perform together with more regularity than their sparse discography would imply. Their most recent pair of performances was onboard Jam Cruise 11, where they sailed the Caribbean with roughly 200 of their fellow musicians and nearly 3,000 of the most musically educated live music fans to be found in one place.
Prior to the ships departure, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood sat down in the artist lounge for a round table interview with JamBase to fill everyone at home in on what to expect from them in 2013.
JamBase: Last time I saw the four of you perform together was right after Out Louder was released in ’06. I know you’ve played a lot together since then, and you’ve all done your own thing as well. As a quartet, how has the playing changed?
Scofield: I might have gotten worse [laughs].
Martin: It’s either gotten better or worse as far as we know.
|Billy Martin by Andrew Bruss|
Medeski: It’s evolved.
Scofield: It’s hard to know but we work on it every day so hopefully it gets better. How does it change? We get better as musicians. But I think these guys would agree that a lot of the goals we have for the music are the same as when we first played together.
In addition to getting tighter, do you think things have taken a different stylistic direction?
Martin: We’ve gotten looser.
Wood: The connection is tighter.
Scofield: …Because we’re improvising.
Wood: We understand each other more and grow together, so as a band, the connection is tighter but it allows us to be freer and make up things in the moment.
What’s in store for 2013 as a quartet or a trio or as solo artists?
Scofield: We’ve talked about MSMW doing more in 2014, whether that’s touring or recording or both, we haven’t discussed that yet. I have a new CD called Uberjam Deux that I just made. It’s [the next step of] my Uberjam project that’s coming out.
Wood: I’ll be doing more stuff with The Wood Brothers. We’re a trio now that we have a drummer from Nashville, who also sings and plays keyboard and shitar, which is a shitty acoustic guitar he basically uses as a beat box instrument. I think of it as the American Cajon.
|John Medeski by Andrew Bruss|
Martin: The North American…
Wood: Right, North American… Amuurican! Cajon. It’s a percussion instrument that lets us play acoustic instruments but for the lack of a better term, it doesn’t sound ethnic. It’s an American sound. We’re making a new record in a few months and we’ll tour. Besides MMW, who will tour the West coast in spring and Europe in the summer and fall, that’s what I’ll be doing on the side.
Martin: I just dropped a record with Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee, which is a brass group. It’s called Heels Over Head, our first full-length record. We recorded it over a few sessions in 2012.
Wood: Great record. It’s been in my van all week.
Martin: We're touring Europe. We recorded our EP about a year and a half ago but we’re starting to tour more and really develop on the stage.
Is this something traditional MMW fans can sink their teeth into? Or will it seem out of left field?
Martin: I don’t think it will be challenging. There are moments of improvisational avant-garde structures but it’s a whole different approach. But there’s a lot of second line stuff and African stuff. I think MMW fans will dig it.
When you hit Europe will the shows be based on recorded compositions or will you be improvisations?
Martin: A little bit of both. [We’ll be playing some of] the tunes we’ve done together, some covers, and some improv. We want to go in both directions.
John, how about yourself? What do you have on deck this year?
|John Scofield by Andrew Bruss|
Medeski: I have a solo piano record coming out April 9. I’ll be touring behind that and it’s John Zorn’s 60th birthday so I’ve got gigs with him. I did about four records with him last year, different projects. I’ll be doing a bunch next year. He has these John Zorn festivals all over the world, [in] New York, [on the] West Coast, [and in] Europe. I’ll be doing solo piano stuff and MMW has 3 tours. And like John said, we’re hoping to do a lot of playing in 2014.
You guys must have the busiest schedules of anyone on the boat. You all have so much scheduled individually, aside from MMW. How do you wrap your heads around this? Do you get together for a meeting every year or does this all just happen on the fly?
Wood: Our managers have to try and piece together the big picture. It’s a communication puzzle.. It’s like a Rubik’s cube, man.
Medeski: For us, it’s a balance between being a band and growing as individuals. The only reason we stay together is because we can feel like we’re growing. It’s hard to grow as a band if each member isn’t growing on their own. It’s why a lot of bands play the same thing the same way they did 30 years ago. That’s something we try not to do. Also, the nature of the music we play isn’t like that. Even a song from our first record, if we play it now, it’s different because there’s all this space for us to create something in the moment with the song, which is what jazz is about. You have different bands playing the same song but it sounds totally different. It’s how we approach it. So for us, it’s about that, growing and and working on our music, and the more we work together and collaborate, the easier it is to get together and have it still be fun.
Aside from shows or studio products, do you set goals for yourselves, as far as how you want grow as musicians? Or do you just hope to improve?
|Chris Wood by Andrew Bruss|
Wood: It’s hard to put into words. Like John [Medeski] says, it relies on each of us and our personal growth, and as we all grow and mature we keep getting excited about things out there in the world; other things, projects, music, and that energy come back into the group and gives us something fresh and when we play with each other, we appreciate what we have in the past and have new things to inspire new stuff to happen. It’s hard to discuss. Sometimes you latch onto something new and exiting like a new artist…
Medeski: Every night, in all honesty, there’s a moment where one of these guys plays something new and I say, “Holy shit! That was amazing!” But there’s no autopilot. It’s about engaging and interacting, and at some point every night one of us does something that makes us smile.
Wood: But once you try and put it into words, everyone will describe it in a different way. But if you hear it, we’ll all agree, “That moment was good.” That’s what’s weird about talking about [music] too much. If we try and preconceive and we say, “Lets do this,” we’ll interpret the words different. But if we just do it, we all know when it happens.
Music is it's own language
Wood: It is!
Scofield: [Nods] Music is it’s own language.
Wood: It’s a feeling.
Medeski: It’s a vibration that happens. You know when it happens. We’re all on the boat to be here for when these moments happen and for us it’s about improvisation, but people can be playing the same thing to get to that same vibratory place to create this energy that makes you feel good.
So for the fans on the boat, or folks at home reading this, is there anything a crowd can see on the four of your faces when you guys are “in the moment,” that moment when you’re really feeling it and firing off on all cylinders?
|Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood by Andrew Bruss|
Wood: I don’t think so. There are moments that make me smile and other moments when I’m in this nirvana-like state and amazed, but [I’m] probably stone faced because I’m listening.
Medeski: If you’re surfing a wave and you say to yourself, “Hey! I’m surfing a wave!” you’re going to wipe out. We’re in it so we don’t acknowledge it’s great when it’s happening.
Scofield: [Making music] is a human experience. Maybe we play better guitar or bass than the guy down in front, but they know what we’re doing because it’s intuitive. All you have to do is look at us, and they know it’s happening.
Wood: It’s like watching a game of basketball or something. You’re not a player but you put yourself in their shoes and it’s exciting!
Scofield: Especially with the grooves, the audience is such a part of it, of the energy in the room…
Wood. There are so many factors; the venue the speakers, the sound…
Scofield: The Atlantic Ocean!
Wood: That’s right, the ocean, and the barometric pressure… I mean, for it to be a magic moment for everyone in the room, there are a lot of variables and it’s a lot bigger than any of us.
Martin: It’s a collective experience.
You guys have a lot of projects of your own coming out this year that fans can be excited about and it sounds like MSMW will be busy as well. When the four of you and your managers finagle how things will work out, do you say MSMW or MMW will be the priority or the individual projects will take the lead and MSMW is what you’ll do with the time off, or is this even a conversation that is had?
Wood: That’s just a perspective. Everything is important. That’s the challenge for our managers.
Medeski: Whatever is happening now is the priority. Our years are sketched out. But after a gig we might say, “This is fun, lets try and do this more as soon as we can.”
|John Scofield by Andrew Bruss|
Scofield: Which turns out to be 2014 for us...
Is there anything you guys want to let JamBase readers know about I didn’t give you the chance to talk about?
Wood: That question always stumps me. Every time!
Scofield: You don’t want to feel like you’re promoting! I already promoted my album!
Medeski: We already promoted our stuff!
Martin: I’ll be out there with Wil Blades, which is a duo I do outside MMW. There’s The Wood Brothers and John solo...
Medeski: I’ve got a record coming out with Skerik and Adam Deitch.
Martin: You guys playing tomorrow night?
Medeski: Yep, tomorrow night. We’ve got a record coming out called Dark Wave.
I didn’t realize Skerik was on board…
Medeski: He is, but I haven’t seen him yet.
I just ran into Mike Dillon, I feel like those guys are never too far apart…
Medeski. That’s true! He’s probably hanging out in his underwear somewhere.
John, last question: What’s your current relationship with New York University?
Scofield: NYU is very nice to me. I work seven days in the whole semester. I do a master class seven times. [Students] can take it anytime so I can just show up. I take semesters off. So if you’re an NYU student, don’t come to NYU to… I don’t do private lessons or anything, but I love doing it and it’s fun.
Well I’m sure you make the kids happy and really help out their chops.
Scofield: Oh, and they really make me happy!
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