Medeski Martin and Wood 20th Anniversary Shows

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Medeski Martin and Wood Residency at the Whitney

John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Chris Wood, a trio referred to as Medeski Martin and Wood, or MMW, are wonderful musicians who integrate jazz and improvisational rock to invent a sometimes unusual but always creative and interesting sound.

Every Friday in August, MMW will be performing at the Whitney Museum’s bar and restaurant right on the first floor of the museum and visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows for those standing on line. And trust me, there will be a line around the block, so get there plenty early for this free event.

These three musicians- Medeski on keys, Martin on percussion, and Wood on bass- formed first as friends in DUMBO, Brooklyn, around 1991 and hit the scene hard from then on. Setting their sights on historical New York City venues, and staying true to their unique sound, MMW released two albums in two years and had toured the whole east cost by 1993.

In 1995, they were touring worldwide and had become leading innovators in fusion/improvisational jazz. They were seamlessly absorbed into the rock and jam band scene and soon, a staple in music festivals across the country. While they were once on a major jazz recording label, they now produce their own material on their label, Indirecto Records, which allows them the musical creativity they want and need.

This kind of independence also frees them up to collaborate with whomever they chose and it is not unlike MMW to do just that. More often than not, they feature amazing special guests and musicians to perform or record with them, one of their favorites being John Scofield, who they’ve released a full-length CD with called Out Louder.

Scofield was the first major guest to appear during Medeski Martin and Wood’s residency at the Whitney Museum in New York on the opening night of this series, August 5th. He came on after MMW played with a world music ensemble, really delving into their improvisational technique and warming up for their old pal. Sco, as fans affectionately call him, came out to great applause and did not hesitate in busting out his signature, exploratory riffs.

The four-some have a records worth of songs together but seem to always go off on musical tangents, which was fine with the rest of us. It was inspiring to see such practiced and creative musicians exploring a new musical realm in such an intimate setting. I felt like the hundred to so people that were on the ground floor were in a studio with them, all crammed together and trying to get the best view.

They blended seamlessly and played a 2-hour dance crazy set. With no lyrics or singing, listeners can focus exclusively on the musical journey the artists set forth, and are discovering for themselves. Medeski was playing with extreme passion, sweating bullets as he ran his fingers across his giant piano/organ/keys rig with lighting precision, but that’s not to undermine the skill level at which Martin and Wood were playing. I’ve never seen someone play drums like Martin does, and there is nothing standard or typical about it. And lucky for us, Wood gave us a few critical bass solos that rounded out the evening perfectly. They delivered an encore that almost brought people to tears, with an inspired rendition of Amazing Grace lasting nearly ten minutes.

The whole event was over before you could blink an eye. Thankfully, Medeski, Martin, Wood, and Scofield were happy to shake hands and take pictures afterword, but kids who may have been used to retiring to their tents or going to see another late-night set were released onto the streets of NYC, only to beg for more music. Good thing this is a residency, be sure to catch one of the next two of these special, free performances coming up during the remainder of August.

September 6, 2011

Writer’s Update: I went to all of these performances, the first and last easily being the best. On the last Friday in August, MMW performed with their long-time collaborator DJ Logic. They each did an instrumental jam with Logic before combining their efforts and jamming for over an hour. It was moving, interesting, riveting, and I can’t wait to see them this fall!

Don’t forget to check out their fall your dates here: http://www.mmw.net/events.jsp including a special Halloween show at Terminal 5!

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