Medeski Martin & Wood may simply be the most talented musicians you ever see. It's not really the type of thing you can prove, and the notion of "the best" in music is certainly subjective. But few would argue the sheer virtuosity with which MMW craft that voodoo that they do. The legendary status MMW have achieved is not only due to their chops and mind-reading abilities, but because they pretty much developed a new off shoot of music. They never fell neatly into jazz, avant, groove, urban... "Instrumental freak-out music" may be the closest you could get, but not when they wanted to deliver elegant classic jazz or pounding hip-hop beats with a DJ. It was, and it is, that ability to do so many things on stage, and in the studio, that has allowed Medeski Martin and Wood to carve out their very own space in music history.
Born in the alleys of Brooklyn in 1991 keyboard/pianist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood put out their first album in 1992, the self-released Notes From the Underground. '93 found the trio on a major label, Grammavision (prior to Ryko) with It's a Jungle in Here. The band began to tour relentlessly and continued to put out amazingly different records which would highlight their development. By the time 1996's Shack-Man hit MMW were on the lips and minds of Phish Heads and their meteoric climb to the top was celebrated across all ages, genres and locations. The hip-hop heavy Combustication, the live acoustic Tonic, the experimental electric The Dropper and the deep grooves of Uninvisible all served to cement the band's rep and further their reach. After creating such a dense catalogue one may wonder what MMW could possibly do for their latest album, End of the World Party (Just in Case)? Well, as JamBase journalist Aaron Stein put it;
It's as if the last decade has been the building of the Medeski-Martin-and-Wood house, filling it with all the comforts of home, rearranging the furniture so it's just right, and now finally that task is done and they get to live and play in their perfect abode.
Living in their perfect little home Medeski Martin and Wood have created arguably their best album to date. Still touring relatively hard and maintaining "real lives" on their own time, JamBase chased down one-third of MMW, the phenomenal bass player Chris Wood.
JamBase: You have two shows coming up in Mexico. What is it like playing outside of the United States?
Wood: I find that young people in other countries have a little different view of the world. They aren't watching the same news programs or TV shows, so they are a little bit different; their view of the arts is different. But it's also different within the U.S. You play up north, you play down south, and the people are a little different. The cultures vary.
Chris Wood by Adam George
JamBase: MMW has been around since the early 90's. How has the touring experience changed over that time?
Wood: We started off in a van, touring around, sleeping on people's floor when we were younger. And it was a real slow build because we didn't have a record deal when we started. So we put out our own first record and were just getting booked in little places that would book an unknown band. People would tape shows and spread that around. Every time we came back to a town there would be more people. So we progressed from the van to an RV with a trailer and slowly added equipment. John (Medeski) started buying new keyboards, well old keyboards - new to him though, and it slowly progressed. I feel sorry for some bands when their dream comes true and they become an overnight success, but then they have to relearn how to live their lives all of the sudden. So for us it was slow, and I think that was good for us and good for the music.
JamBase: Now that you enjoy more "luxurious" tour accommodations, how have your live performances been affected?
Wood: When you feel too comfortable, sometimes it's different. When we're playing just a really crappy little club, sometimes the best music happens at places like that because you really just don't care. There is something about playing dives that is good for music. The small clubs are where the music happens for us.
As a fellow Coloradan I have to ask, "What about Red Rocks?"
Medeski & Wood :: Red Rocks :: By Adam George
Red Rocks is great! I guess it's not just small clubs, but places where you can really hear yourself. Red Rocks is this big giant rock thing (laughs), and it's beautiful. There is something about the natural beauty of the place that is inspiring when you're on stage looking out at it. And that really helps the music, especially when you're improvising.
You guys recently released your, End of the World Party (Just in Case). I am curious to know what significance the name holds for the band?