Medeski, Martin & Wood
Umbria Jazz Winter Festival 2001/2002
Orvieto (TR) - Italy
Umbria Jazz is the biggest jazz festival in Italy. It started in 1973 and since then every summer the city of Perugia has hosted many great jazz (and not only jazz) musicians from all over the world. Since 9 years ago, the promoters of this festival started to organize a winter edition, too, in the little old town of Orvieto. Orvieto town was bult during pre-roman ages upon a big hill which made it a sure place for many centuries (except when the Romans destroyed it when it was still the etruscan "Volsinii"). This geographical quality preserved its original medieval and renaissance aspect up to today, which makes Orvieto one of the treasures of Italy. Umbria Jazz Winter shows are all played in downtown Orvieto in beautiful venues like the classical music "Teatro Mancinelli" or the medieval palaces "Palazzo del Popolo" and "Museo Greco."
Last October I was very pleased discovering that MMW was playing four shows in Orvieto. So I decided to attend the central two of them: December 30th (with special guest John Scofield) and December 31st (with special guest Marc Ribot) both at "Teatro Mancinelli."
This is an attempt to write a review of these two shows.
I arrived in Orvieto during the afternoon on December 30 after a nice car ride that lasted for 3 hours. There I met two German and two Italian friends and then we went together to the show. Teatro Mancinelli is a classical music theatre built in 1864 with ground floor seats, three levels of boxes (in italian "palco" that menas little balconies) and a big balcony at the fourth level. We had reserved seats in a box at second level on the left side. These seats are great because you have a beautifull sight of the stage. I was particulary pleased to see Medeski very well while playing his keyboards. The acoustic of course was perfect.
Show time was 20,45 and during the preceding 30 minutes, the theatre was slowly filled completely by attendance. The crowd was very well mixed: among the typical 40/50 years old italian jazz lovers, you could see a lot of young people, most of them clearly coming from outside Italy. And clearly there were MMW fans and Scofield fans.
When the curtain went up (after a short introduction by one promoter of the festival, who was very excited and happy to host MMW) the four musicians were already on their instruments and they started playing the opening song from Scofield's A Go Go (recorded with MMW). I have no idea of setlist - I know every MMW songs but I don't know their name.
In this show they played mostly songs from that album plus some typical freaky MMW stuff. Being a guitar player I appreciate the incredible skill Scofield has on his instrument and the way he uses effects like "reverse" and "loop" even if I don't like his sound. But being a MMW fan and not a Scofield fan I was a little bit disappointed by this show being more "Scofield with Friends" show then a "MMW show with guest" imo. Anyway, this was the first time I was attending a live MMW show and I was of course very excited. Scofield too was very pleased to play with them and said to the crowd that that was a great night for him. He had a big smile on his face the whole night.
The show lasted for 90/120 minutes and was very well played and received a great appreciation by the crowd. After the encore Scofield unplugged his guitar, Medeski took his "melodica" (air-breath little keyboard, like a toy), Wood carried his double-bass, and Martin took a brasilian percussion. Then together they joined the audience at the ground floor while still playing a funky riff, they walked outside the theatre to the area called "foyer" (which is outside the playing area but still inside the theatre) and kept playing for several minutes. Then, still playing, they rejoined the stage and greeted the audience. That was the best thing in this show, because it was totally unexpected and really "out of style" in a theatre like that. The audience appreciated it very much. Outside the venue I was be able to confirm my opinion about the show with other MMW fans who, like me, were a little bit disappointed, but all the Scofield fans were very pleased. Anyway MMW is still MMW even if they are backing another musicians and I was happy about the show.
The special guest on the day after was Marc Ribot. I had great expectations about this show, having been very pleased and shocked by Ribot's Cubano Postizos last summer at Ravenna (my hometown) Jazz Festival. The venue was still Teatro Mancinelli, but showtime was 17,00 which is a bit strange being a show on December 31st. After another introduction by the same promoter of the previous night (who said the same things), again the curtain went up and again the four musicians were on their instruments. They started with some very freaky and noisy stuff and it was immediately clear that (at least for me) this was going to be a totally different experience. After a few minutes, they got into a tipical MMW groove led by Martin-Wood and enriched by Medeski and Ribot textures.
If the previous show was "Scofield & Friends," this was a MMWR(ibot) show. Ribot was really into MMW music and his playing fits perfectly and in full harmony with MMW. I couldn't say more. Being in such a kind of theatre (and again in a box at second level, but after having left my seat in the first row of ground floor) I was very pleased by the sight I had and by the acoustics, but I had the problem to stay seated. This was really a big problem for me because this show was so good and so groovy I couldn't keep my feet and my hands not moving.
The show lasted not more than 1 hour and 30/40 minutes, but was very intense and dramatic. Again, I can't help with any kind of setlist, but this show was pure MMW electric music and style. As I said before, Ribot matched perfectly with the others and he took a lot of solos. I really loved his sound and his playing (he used a hollow body old jazz guitar - probably a Gibson - and a Fender Telecaster). His solos started very simply but became very complex and totally crazy. There was a very big musical communication between the musicians and the result was incredible. When he wasn't taking solos, Ribot was just adding crazy sound to the mix exactly the same way Medeski did with him. This was one of the best show in my life ever. These musicians are really incredible.
At the end of the show, Medeski started playing acoustic piano (for the first time during my two shows run) and after a brief, calm and amazing improvisation he started "Hey Joe" (like he plays in Tonic) during wich the other members built a "crescendo" wich exploded during an amazing Ribot solo. Then they left the stage and after a few minutes they got back for an encore which was really too much for me. Let me say that my first exposure to MMW was thanks to an Italian trader who gave a tape of a 1995 show which started with "Crosstown Traffic." This song was my first MMW experience and was incredibly great. Guess what they played as encore?
And it was played with FIRE! Again with the best solo any guitar could play in such a song played by MMW. So as for now my MMW experience started and finished with "Crosstown Traffic," a song we can enjoy thanks to the genius of Jimi Hendrix and again thanks to the genius of four great musicians of today.
I couldn't expect any better from last NYE who finished in Orvieto's piazza della Repubblica dancing at the music of the Coolbone Marching Band from New Orleans.
(who saw Emily play ... and dance)
JamBase's FIRST Italian Correspondent
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