Medeski, Martin and Wood: Radiolarians III

By: Bryan Rodgers

The final chapter in Medeski Martin and Wood's Radiolarians series is the most concise, melodic entry yet. The trio is well known for leaving the ground during their instrumental flights of fancy, but Radiolarians III (released August 4 on Indirecto Records) is surprisingly rooted and polished in comparison to the other albums of the series. That's not to say that listeners should put this thing on at a party or family gathering - despite the abundance of digestible New Orleans-tinged beats, there's still plenty of challenging exploration here.

The difference between construct and chaos is found in the production and presentation of the album's nine selections. There's little noodling or ambient gesturing as the band bangs and breezes through their trademark affectations, like fractured jazz funk ("Gwyra Mi," "Wonton"), psychoactive lounge grooves ("Chantes des Femmes") and inspired variations on familiar styles ("Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down," "Walk Back").

Through all of the stylistic diversions pulse the restless bass of Chris Wood and the multifaceted bump of Billy Martin's drums, and the two sound so connected, it seems as though they could formulate the album's busy rhythms in their sleep. The album beats the first two Radiolarians volumes as far as sound quality, and the music becomes an overwhelming experience as keyboardist John Medeski blasts through the rhythmic mayhem with vintage gusto. The band's unfathomable range is exhibited in the contemplative "Kota," which bristles with far-eastern tones, and "Undone," a Tortoise-like construction of puzzle-piece rhythms and angular melodies.

A chasm of possibility lies between the outer edges of Medeski, Martin and Wood's creative capabilities. The unique format of the Radiolarians series - performing and developing songs live before committing them to album - has helped them determine which areas should be colonized and which are merely nice to visit.

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[Published on: 9/1/09]

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