Uninvisible | 2002 | Blue Note Records

Many consider Miles Davis to be the Jesus Christ of modern jazz fusion, and with good reason. In the late 1960's, Miles Davis introduced the world to the second coming of jazz, forever splitting its church into camps of purists and those less concerned with dogmatic tradition. This fusion of jazz, rock and funk was not stumbled across, but pulled from the air where all that grooves, bangs and jives around exists. These new and positively controversial sounds may not have given birth to peace on earth and equality for mankind, but it has given the dream an appropriate soundtrack.

Miles Davis the man may be gone, but his spirit, like some jazz version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, is stronger now than when he was alive. The result is a second and third generation of modern musicians intent on following the glorious and guiding light of this seminal master.

Jazz fusion is a formidable and technically challenging art form that demands those who engage in its fermentation the highest levels of communication and listening ability, not to mention some killer chops. The current Jedi counsel for this ultra-hip genre presides in the New York City's Brooklyn borough, where John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood mine the next step in this cosmic and extremely groovy dance.

Medeski Martin and Wood, as they are called, do not begin to try and apologize for sometimes leaving their audiences dumbfounded or even plain confused. Their experiment of sound, more often than not, intoxicates itself to such a degree that the band may not even know if another soul was in the room when all systems are go. In this arena, space is the place, as Sun Ra so eloquently put it.

It is the space between us, the space between the notes, the space, well, the space between everything; even if it doesn't exist yet. If you're confused, maybe you are starting to understand what it's like to appreciate great jazz fusion. It is a pursuit so intimate, it will either push you away or draw you in - there is very little middle ground. Those with less patience or more traditional ideas of what jazz is supposed be might quickly run for the door if a friend drug them along to see Medeski, Martin and Wood do their thing. But if it speaks to you, it can, at times, be nothing less than pure ecstasy with a capital E.

Medeski Martin and Wood combine the "traditional" aspects of jazz fusion with more modern urban influences such as hip-hop and drum and bass. This amalgamation is further accented by the soulful gospel sounds so often incorporated into Medeski's organ play. On top of this they add a puddle dose of avant-garde charm to keep out the fair weather types; by design or coincidence.

As I listen to their latest Blue Note release, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up. It is so unrelentingly groovy and hip it will make those who pine for this kind of music feel as if their sins have been forgiven. Uninvisible, which is Medeski, Martin and Wood's 10th studio effort to date, is a transcendent and logical evolution of the sound they now seem to own - or lease, as the case may be.

Most notably with 1998's Combustication, keyboardist John Medeski threw all reservations about being weird right out the proverbial window. As a player he began to sneak into a darker, scarier realm of jazz and jamming that would keep Nosferatu himself in full rapture. Continuing down this shadowy path, last year's Blue Note release, The Dropper, set the stage for a very strong year of touring and further development of this new and haunting groove.

Virtuoso drummer Billy Martin and bass monster Chris Wood, who has been compared to the legendary Charles Mingus in terms of his strength as a player, create a deep and constantly moving rhythm spiced with hard hitting, helter skelter textures. This provides keyboardist and organ player John Medeski the opportunity to weave his stewing melodies and frantic solos through the Frankenstein which is Medeski Martin and Wood music.

Uninvisble is not the kind of album you can just throw on at a backyard barbecue in July. Not if you're going to worry your little head that your guests might grow uneasy and leave. Medeski Martin and Wood make soulfully resonant music with a big old set of hairy balls. So once again it is the choice Miles Davis first put to the jazz world: love it or leave it.

Uninvisible will be available in finer music stores April 9th.

Craig Judkins
JamBase Euro-Correspondent
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[Published on: 4/7/02]

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