Medeski Martin & Wood – Free Magic

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Medeski Martin & Wood – “Doppler”
Free Magic

It’s hard to believe Medeski Martin & Wood have been around for 21 years. Since the beginning, MMW have never been satisfied staying in one place for too long. They started out as an acoustic trio but soon began to incorporate electric instruments before becoming almost entirely electric for a while. In 2000, they released Tonic, as an acoustic trio and two years later they released its’ followup, Electric Tonic, which as the title suggests featured an electric lineup. Both were recorded in front of live audiences at the terrific little spot next to the Williamsburg Bridge that was Tonic. This fall Medeski Martin & Wood return to an acoustic piano trio for Free Magic. While the album was recorded during the band’s acoustic tour in 2007, MMW have been on tour as an acoustic trio to celebrate their new release on their own label, Indirecto Records. The acoustic setting allows pianist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood to explore a more subtle approach with plenty of percussion.

“There’s a rhythmic and sonic connection that we have. Listening is the most important thing for us. We’re having a conversation when we’re playing. The dynamic range is much greater in the acoustic setting. When we play electric, everything is turned up to 11 and it’s screaming. But with John on piano and Chris on upright, we can play with a much more nuanced touch. My percussion starts to come into play more and the other guys are hearing tonality from me and they can jump on that. It’s a very different world, but I love it.” – Billy Martin

The album kicks off with Martin setting the scene with an extended balafon solo on “Doppler,” featured above. If you get an opportunity to see MMW live, take a look at Billy’s percussion table. It’s filled with exotic, handmade instruments from around the world. His percussive touches really set Free Magic ablaze. Billy’s polyrhythmic funk and Chris Wood’s upright bass madness fill the record with deep rhythms. There is plenty of improvisation on “Doppler” which transitions from a free opening into a groove-oriented soul-jazz number. Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Les McCann have always been big influences on MMW and you can hear why on this album as each tune has a distinct personality. Perhaps one of the most fascinating parts about the way Medeski Martin & Wood improvise is how they can fly through a section of free jazz dissonance before turning on a dime and dishing out a scorching piano romp fueled with New Orleans R&B. MMW may have been around for 21 years yet their sound is as fresh as ever and they continue to reinvent themselves with every performance. Listen to “Doppler” above or on soundcloud and look out for Free Magic at a record store near you. You can preorder the vinyl edition at the Medeski Martin & Wood store.

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