Opening Night | Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood In Washington

Words and Images by: S. Balaji Mani

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood :: 12.04.14 :: 9:30 Club :: Washington, DC

“They’re one of the greatest groups of all time,” John Scofield announced last night at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club, referring to MMW, the aptly named trio composed of John Medeski (keys), Billy Martin (drums) and Chris Wood (bass). Of course, Scofield is something of a legend himself -often regarding as one of The Big Three of contemporary jazz guitar. So you can imagine what happens when you combine them on stage for two sets.

Scofield and MMW, or better known now as Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, kicked off their tour last night in support of their new record, Juice. The group has quite the history -they first joined forces in 1998, when the trio supported John Scofield’s jazz album A Go Go. There was definitely chemistry and the group released Out Louder in 2005. Despite the decent back-catalogue, they were eager to show off the new tunes and played through almost the entire album last night. Opening with “Sham Time,” which also begins the new album, the crowd reflected a roaring applause. Scofield’s signature scowls matched his soloing through the first cut, at times clean and poetic and at other times just straight up dirty and atonal -a unique voice that Scofield has developed over multiple decades.

Before starting up “Juicy Lucy,” a tune unmistakably evoking “Louie Louie,” Scofield and Medeski bantered off mic, creating a loose atmosphere that would only invite more exploration later in the evening. In a nod to their A Go Go days, the band kicked into “Chank,” bringing the crowd’s energy back up. The Latin-style groove of “Helium” closed out the first set, capping just about an hour of intense improvisation and perfectly-timed melodies. The most fascinating part of any MSMW show, which was definitely evident last night, is the pairing of Scofield and MMW really brings together two very different worlds of jazz, and thus different groups of fans. You could see older men in slacks who probably own Scofield’s Groove Elation on vinyl eating up Billy Martin’s eclectic percussion toys while younger college-aged kids stared in awe at some of Scofield’s more straight-ahead phrases.

The second set kicked of with another new song, the upbeat and swingy “Louis The Shoplifter” and then wasted no time pulling from Out Louder with “Little Walter Rides Again.” The set peaked early with this track, punctuated with Wood’s solo backed by the audience clapping on beat. The two Johns also traded solos back and forth, yet seamlessly jumped back into the main riff with just a quick nod from Scofield. Anyone who has seen MMW as a standalone trio before knows that they have an inclination to get really out there with their improvising. While the band lost a little bit of steam with a particularly meandering segue section, they quickly called attention with a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” Juice diverges from MSMW’s previous efforts in that it contains a good amount of cover tunes. The latter half of the second set boasted another cover, an outstanding and one-of-a-kind reggae version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”

The band came out for an electrifying encore, dropping straight into “Light My Fire.” The Doors’ cover was the exclamation point on a great evening, foreshadowing great things for the rest of the Juice tour. If you can’t make it out to see MSMW this time around, you still have the chance to check them out in full Couch Tour style this Sunday night on Yahoo! Screen.

Set One: Sham Time, Juicy Lucy, Chank (A Go Go), North London, Helium

Set Two: Louis The Shoplifter, Little Walter Rides Again (Out Louder) > The Times They Are A-Changin’, Sunshine Of Your Love, I Know You

Encore: Light My Fire