Medeski, Martin & Wood: An Avant-Jazz Experience
November 16th, 2010 No Comments »
OK, don’t blow a head gasket when I say this, but before November 14, 2010, I didn’t know who Medeski Martin & Wood were. But that definitely wasn’t the case this past Sunday night at Tarrytown Music Hall. There were tons of people there who were more than familiar with these three musicians, and they definitely made their passion (dare I say fanaticism, bordering on obsession) for them known.
The hall was buzzing with excitement as we waited for the band to take the stage. Had I known what would be in store for me, I would have been just as antsy to get started as everyone else around me.
So there we were sitting up front, second row center, when the crowd suddenly erupted in applause. As soon as Medeski Martin & Wood appeared, they immediately took their places and launched right into their set. Of course, loyal fans knew what to expect, but for a first-timer like myself, there were some head-scratching moments.
For the first few minutes of the performance, it seemed to me like they were doing a sound check using a horror film soundtrack. Each member was doing his own thing, with eerie noises and seemingly random effects being thrown in for good measure. But after a few moments I realized it was actually a song! The best way for me to describe it would be “synchronous discord.” Once I finally understood what was happening, the tune drew to an abrupt, sighing close, kind of like when you pull the plug on a turntable.
Before I had time to think, they launched right into their next number. Although I would have liked some time to reflect on what I’d just heard, I found it very refreshing how each song flowed into the next. I’m pretty sure the band does this intentionally, not because they want to plow through an event, but because doing it this way weaves a spell on the crowd – playing funky blues one moment, transitioning into a jazzy ballad the next and then being brought out of this reverie with a rock beat that gets your adrenaline pumping.
The dynamic between the three musicians is also intoxicating. As a trio it’s incredible how they creatively bounce off one another’s energy. They’re no less spectacular as individuals either. Medeski is the obvious character in the group: it was amusing to watch him mouth mumbles while playing every tune. His enthusiasm for music was obvious with every movement. One of the major highlights of the night was his brief solo using an instrument that can only be called a combination of a bagpipe and mini keyboard.
Martin is an awesome drummer, plain and simple. He uses everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to mastering percussion, and you can’t help but stare in amazement when he’s playing. His spectacular drum solo must have lasted close to 10 minutes, though that still wasn’t long enough for the audience. He definitely deserved the standing ovation he received and then some.
Of course we can’t forget Wood. The guy may allow the other two to take center stage, but he adds just enough of a quirky element to his bass playing to complement his bandmates nicely. His solo in particular was stripped down and raw, imparting an earthy, calming atmosphere on the crowd.
All in all, the night went by too quickly. I couldn’t believe I had been listening to these musicians play for nearly two hours – it literally felt like I had just sat down when it came to an end. So you can imagine how frantic long-time fans were to hear more. As the poor tired guys left the stage, everyone demanded an encore with a roar of clapping, cheering, yelling, whistling and when all else failed, stomping their feet. Of course the band had to oblige, and they returned to deliver a ballad which gripped everyone’s heart.
So consider me a Medeski Martin & Wood convert! I’ve never heard anything like their music before, and I’m sure it will be quite a while before someone comes along to push boundaries like they do.