June 23, 2001
Fleet Boston Pavilion
By Celeste Sunderland

Oftentimes a band is associated with a specific type of venue. Mention of their live shows conjures an image of a certain atmosphere. When one recalls the Ramones, CBGB's might come to mind. The Grateful Dead - the Fillmore West.

My experience with New York jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood proves otherwise. Maybe I am witnessing the growth of this band like I have seen no other. Or maybe these guys have a special gift. It is quite possible that MMW has the unique ability to morph each concert into a unique experience, to take a venue and transform it into an entirely new atmosphere.

The first time I saw Medeski, Martin, and Wood was in Central Park during what seemed like one of the hottest summers in history. It was 1997, two years after the jazz trio opened for Phish and their popularity among the young and barefoot was steadily growing.

Three years later, shortly after Tonic's release, I found myself enjoying an acoustic show, in the solemn atmosphere of a 200-year-old synagogue in New York's Lower East Side. It was intriguing to see a band, whose grooves once moved sweaty revelers to dance frenetically in 90-degree sun, now hold a reverent audience captive with eerie avante guard sounds.

On Saturday, June 23, I saw Medeski, Martin, and Wood in yet another unique setting -- on the Boston waterfront. The day's threats of rain vanished by early evening when jazz lovers and jam lovers, began to fill the seats under the enormous white canopy at the Fleet Boston Pavilion.

Two past MMW collaborators, DJ Logic, and jazz guitarist John Scofield opened the show, which was part of the Boston Globe Jazz and Blues Festival. Scofield's highly electronic band got the crowd on its feet, and set an interesting path for MMW to follow.

When the trio took the stage their music seemed refreshingly pure, in contrast to the looping guitar effects and drum samples of Scofield's band.

Traversing seamlessly from abstract, avante-guard sounds, to familiar jamming grooves, to beautiful melodic landscapes, the trio kept their audience captive while communicating easily with each other. They had their own secret language, and they spoke it fluently. Trading off on long, improvised solos, each member became the complete embodiment of his instrument. Billy Martin, on drums, Chris Wood, on bass (upright or electric), and John Medeski on keys -- individually they explored all realms of their instruments, releasing innovative sounds that continually excited their fans.

Occasionally the jams got repetitive, but the audience eased into the groove and were quick to forgive. It was obvious how good it felt for the band to play. DJ Logic, in pure, old-school DJ-style, provided rhythmic scratching on the turn-tables. His spinning was refreshing after the showcase of electronic drum beats and samples from Scofield's band, and fit right in with the shifting sounds of MMW.

Scofield joined the trio for "Jeep On 35," off his 1997 release, A Go Go, the result of Scofield and MMW's most tangible collaboration. His tight, rubbery riffs mingled well with the rolling grooves the band played. They rode each other's rhythms into a danceable beat that had the crowd up and moving.

By the time the show ended the audience was just getting started -- undoubtedly a pleasant prelude to a splendid Saturday evening for all, in the city of the "Big Dig."

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[Published on: 7/1/01]

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