Fillmore | Denver | 04.12.02

It had been almost a year to the day since this jazz giant had rolled across the Mississippi, and it was a very needed event. The jazz trio, known as Medeski Martin & Wood, seems to have something about crossing the mighty river and taking their adventures into the West. With the release of their new album, Uninvisible, this was a highly anticipated show of new sounds and highlights. They had announced guests on the tour, which was to make this one of my highlights of the year. These new Blue Note giants had amazed all that had heard the new album, which is full of new and bright grooves to get any improv freak off their feet. The new sounds possess a different kind of flow instead of the ambiance that this band has provided in the past. As I was approaching my 12th show with these musical geniuses, I wondered what new sounds might be brought to the table inside this unfriendly jam venue. The Fillmore is way too big for a band I saw in front of 600 people, and does not do justice to their sound. But the stage was set for a fantastic evening of music, and the message of beauty that these players bring to each note.

The last time they were here was a co-headline with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and it was one of the most fantastic nights of improv I have heard in my years on this scene. This night was a completely different night of grooves by the masters of ambient jazz. We had missed the opening band Norah Jones, but got to see her later on in the set. With a drink in my hand and the speakers playing some great James Brown, the set was on hand for a great show and an interesting night of grooves by the three doctors.

The moment the masters walked on the stage, the entire crowd seemed to be entranced by what they were going to do. The entire show was with a guest, DJ P-Love, from the emerging Kid Koala, which gave everyone that Logic feeling during some of the jams (for those lucky enough to have seen these guys with DJ Logic). P-Love seemed to flow in the distance throughout the night, following Billy with almost perfect ease. The show opened with the typical jam that included all the highlights of their styles. John was again the mad professor on his barrage of keys that left everyone in the crowd amazed by what he can do. The jam went into “Pappy Check”, the first new live vibe I got off the album Uninvisible. This song is a jam, which could easily be off of Shackman, but with P-Love it gave us that fresh sound of the new MMW. He also appears on the album, which made this splendid with him out there. The jam was about nine minutes, but it was so beautiful that it was the perfect opening. The second tune, “Ten Dollar High”, was the perfect tribute to the true jazz beauty that this trio can bring out. With P-Love again on the song, this was a showing of his ability to adapt and play with a fantastic jazz band. The band, especially John, seemed to follow him through this musical journey and explore it with all their hearts.

The next significant moment of the set was the only highlight from The Dropper that evening. This album gets overlooked as one of the better ones from this band, but I disagree. The pure skill of this album is what makes this band great, with each different sound they put out on their studio efforts. Most bands can get a tired sound after a while, but they are a completely different band, and one of the few that you can listen to albums just as much as live shows.

“Felic" > "Shacklyn Knights” proved to be the best jam of the first set. This brought out the best of that album and showed why these guys are powerhouses to be reckoned with. The bass solo in the middle provided a rare look at Chris playing solidly on the electric. I know he is a fantastic electric bassist, but I am so used to the acoustic that this took me by shock. Chris has done more electric in the last couple of years and has a great sound, but I really missed the bow in some parts of this show. The last jam was a sultry, slow version of “Que Sera Sera.” The song was nice but a bad set closer that provided the crowd with an unneeded rest. This was a beautiful first set but it had me pondering when the horns were going to come out.

The second set was approached with a great anticipation of Steve Bernstein and a full horn section adding to the flavor of the show. For those that don’t know Steve’s work on the first two albums or with his own band the Sex Mob, then you have to check out this great slide trumpet player. He is the embodiment of every great trumpet player from Miles to Donald Byrd. With all the players on stage, they ripped into Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” with a bang and we were all off. The band has covered a couple of Jimi tunes and, unfortunately, one I really don’t like. The band, however, did a fantastic job and the horns were very tight. The band was great the entire set and did not seem to screw up at all. The song out of “Fire” - “Smoke” - seemed to be a little more relaxed. The new album seems to put all of their efforts together and produces a lot of similarities to all the previously released efforts. This jam was preceded by my favorite jam off the new album, the title track "Uninvisible." The horns on the album (by Antibalas) are killer, but Steve calmed this horn section to more of a jazzy code while P-Love and John went off into bliss. The entire song was perfect and could have been the best jam of the night. I myself have to go with “Wiggly’s Way” off the first album, It’s a Jungle in Here. With Steve on stage it brought a great addition to the jazz chops of the trio. The horn section just seemed to glide along his beats as John calmed down and gave us some amazing notes of his own. The rhythm of Chris and Billy only fed the fuel for P-Love to chill and let the band have their moment.

As they played, I was reminded of all the acoustic moments I had heard from this band, and I just wished John had his baby grand up there and Chris was on his acoustic. But the jam was a complete success and had me wanting something, if not anything, off of Notes from the Underground. The last jam was a tribute to all the musicians on stage, giving them their solos and bidding us a farewell. “Moti Mo” would not have been my last choice, but they played every note with pride, and Billy gave the last props to the players before the encore: “I Wanna Ride You” (which seems to be the new closer for this tour). The beginning gave us a blend of what John was doing with The Word, with a gospel twist that got everyone up. The jam is a perfect beat that encapsulates everything about old and modern jazz. With no true electronic help the band just gave their all and made me smile with their effort. The show was a success, though I would have liked to have seen a mix in the set list with some more oldies. But it was one hell of a Friday night after another hell week of what we like to call work.

The show was kind of different for me, because the band stopped at every song. This has never happened with their pure flow and ambient ways. This was the new form of MMW, and I really thought it had its moments. They should incorporate this into their old showings and bring both together. Also, I want to thank the horn section and P-Love for giving us the true live sounds of the new album. They produced a beautiful night for all and I hope anyone that got to see any of the shows in Oregon or California got the same vibe. Well, take care and I hope to see you all at Red Rocks this summer... Lats and on the flipside.

Dallas Kuykendall
JamBase | Colorado
Go see live music!

[Published on: 4/17/02]

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