Medeski Martin & Wood | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Medeski Martin & Wood 

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Medeski Martin & Wood

Nobody, but nobody, has done more to popularize the jazz organ trio format than Medeski Martin & Wood--as evidenced by the astonishing fact that they can headline a 1,200-seat venue like the Vic. They've broadened the appeal of the music they play not so much by bringing rock into their act as by bringing their act to rock fans, gigging around the country in rock clubs and even hauling their own equipment (and a Hammond B-3 is a bitch to lug). The downside to the constant touring is that the trio--keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Chris Wood, and percussionist Billy Martin--has grown fond of pointless jamming, which explains why you'll see a lot of Phish T-shirts in the audience this weekend. MM&W's last album, Shack-Man (Gramavision), puttered along on the basis of some loose grooves and not much else, but on the new Combustication (Blue Note) they've sharpened their attack. Although the tunes are still unapologetically groove based, the melodies are more than simple rhythmic squiggles and everything's more concise--a handful of the songs actually clock in under four minutes. Occasionally the players even take full-blown solos. On "Latin Shuffle" Medeski plays a lengthy one that's rife with the chunky chords and clusters of Thelonious Monk and Randy Weston, while Martin's turn sounds like a dialogue between Art Blakey and Max Roach. Elsewhere there's plenty of Meters-style funk ("Sugar Craft" and "Coconut Boogaloo"), some noirish spoken word ("Whatever Happened to Gus"), and a couple creative deconstructions of familiar tunes (Sly Stone's "Everyday People" as somnambulant gospel and the Hawaiian slack-key standard "No Ke Aho Ahiahi" as gauzy ambient drift). Several tunes feature cutting and scratching by DJ Logic, whose task seems to have been to throw up roadblocks; the group navigates them easily. MM&W are terrific live--but beware low-flying dreadlocks. DJ Logic and Chocolate Genius (aka Marc Anthony Thompson), whose recent Black Music (V2) features help from Wood and Medeski, open. Saturday, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jimmy Kotz.

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