MEDESKI, MARTIN & WOOD
Hart Theatre @ The Egg, Albany, NY
April 25, 2007
by Albert Brooks
Not having seen Medeski, Martin and Wood before or for that matter having heard any of the group's music, I came to the Egg on Wednesday night with no expectations other than that I would likely experience some good jazz music given the band's long tenure playing together.
My first surprise upon arrival was to learn that MMW was going to be playing the larger Hart Theatre, and not the more intimate Swyer Theatre, at the Egg. Now just three days earlier, I had attended the Bill Charlap Trio/Kurt Elling double bill at the Swyer Theatre and heard two groups in peak form, but noted that the small theatre was not full - although the enthusiastic, appreciative crowd (standing ovation and two encore calls) was respectable in size. For Medeski, Martin & Wood, the theatre was practically sold out.
My second surprise was that the large number of people awaiting the start of the gig was considerably younger than the typical jazz audience. By far, this audience was largely composed of the college-aged, with a scattering of older jazz heads sprinkled throughout. When I ran into an old friend and fellow jazz fanatic at the show, he warned me that I was in for a treat with my first MM&W concert and advised me that the group was known as a jam band. That designation was not far off.
The music was high energy throughout the whole evening and the group is quite accomplished. I thoroughly enjoyed the show even though I, unlike many in the audience, did not know the band's music. (The band did not introduce or identify the songs played) Those that did know the repertoire often gave the band loud props upon hearing a familiar introductory riff or rhythm that identified the upcoming song. Abundant and lusty praise was also accorded the individual musicians' solo inventions. John Medeski was particularly charged in this regard the whole evening on keyboards, but drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood were equally creative and skillful in their playing. Martin and Medeski also displayed their talents on multiple instruments.
Medeski, Martin & Wood tends to establish tasty grooves with each song, causing heads to bop, feet to pat, and mouths to utter hip expressions of joy. They put on a good show. The trio plays jazz that is intense, often funky and with smatterings - at least to my ears - of Traffic-like (of the John Barleycorn Must Die vintage) rock. Perhaps, that is why they draw the young crowd, with their ability to infuse their fundamentally jazz -based improvisations with a more or less subtle funky rock sensibility.
Nevertheless, I can't help thinking if some of that young crowd had come out Sunday night and heard Bill Charlap's virtuosic stylings on piano and Kurt Elling's poetic crooning, Kenny Washington's and Willie Jones III's polyrhythmic dynamism on drums, or Steve LaSpina's and Rob Amster's artful playing of the bass, they would have dug it and the Swyer Theatre would have rocked even harder than it did!
Albert Brooks is an area attorney, long time jazz fan and perpetual student of the saxophone.