Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss
Medeski Martin & Wood :: 11.14.09 :: Nokia Theatre :: New York, NY
Medeski Martin & Wood brought their freak jazz-fusion home for a gig in New York City that effectively stimulated the frontal lobes of their audience, but did little to get feet moving on the dance floor. Given that the group cut their teeth on the Blue Note circuit, expecting a little something extra to come from a show in Time Square would have been a fair assumption, but their two sets didn't deviate much from the norm.
The first set started off with "Zagzagel," the opening track off Zaebos: Book Of Angels Volume 11, before they segued into "Broken Mirror" and "Wonton," both off the third installment of their Radiolarian Series. There are many faces to Medeski Martin & Wood, and over the past few years, they've proven themselves to be more challenging than ever. With groove-heavy albums like 1998's Combustication and 2004's End Of The World Party (Just In Case) under their belt, MMW can clearly get the dance floor moving. At the same time, they can just as easily perform two hours of avant-garde, neo-free jazz that is more about listening than anything else.
Their performance at the Nokia Theatre Times Square, which took place over a hundred feet below street level, proved to fall into the latter category, snuffing out the audience's dance floor ambitions with instrumentals that wove between intricate rhythms and, more than anything else, demonstrated the technical proficiency that's made MMW a jazz-heavy phenomenon on the jam band circuit.
Where most drummers keep the beat, Billy Martin has the preternatural ability to take his percussion into the spotlight, effectively coming off as a lead musician as opposed to the supporting role usually reserved for drummers.
Chris Wood, the only member of the trio who stands while performing, had the unique position to really rock out onstage. He worked off of Martin while running his fingers up and down the neck of his bass, engaging in a competitive call-and-response while showcasing a badass grin on his face.
| John Medeski :: 11.14 :: NYC|
While Martin and Wood played off each other's licks, John Medeski worked his magic from behind the confines of his electric organ, slapping and sliding his fingers across the keys of an array of instruments. As he mouthed the notes he was playing on his assortment of key-based instruments, he came off like a mad scientist, mixing a dash of this and that from assorted test tubes, inching closer and closer to a perfect formula.
An important addition to their performance was the percussion of Eddie Bobe on the second half of their first set. He really accentuated Martin's work throughout "Chantes Des Femmes," which was followed by a solo of his own.
The second set featured more cuts from the Radiolarian Series, and was followed by a fan-friendly encore of "New Planet," that let people get their groove on, but unfortunately, following the first set, plenty of attendees were seen headed for the exits. As impressive as their improvisational skills are, without including a bit of funk in the mix their performance came off as pseudo-masturbatory. With a back-catalog that features jazz, funk, John Zorn compositions, and kid's tunes, a more eclectic setlist would have been more stimulating for their audience. But given the energies put into Radiolarians (released in three volumes over two years), their choice of tunes should have been expected. However, even through the haze of disappointment, the folks who left early were sure to have been impressed by the virtuosic playing that they got to hear.
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