Medeski Martin & Wood

Record review

ACL Fest Reviews

Medeski Martin & Wood

End of the World Party (Just in Case) (Blue Note) There's a razor-thin line between a groove and a rut. And to be quite honest, for a while it was looking as if these pioneering jazz funk jammers had slipped irrevocably into a creative quagmire. Fortunately, 2002's Uninvisible, with its tasteful injection of electronics, samples, and scratches, marked a resurgence for the trio and set the stage for End of the World Party (Just in Case), their best effort in quite some time. With producer John King, of the Dust Brothers and Beck notoriety, on board, the band sorted through hours of informal jams, mining ideas and then extrapolating them into full-blown compositions. The result is a lean, stripped-down sound they're calling "groove-driven minimalism" and it has certainly sparked a renewed vitality in these seemingly indefatigable road warriors. At this point, the band has logged so many hours of playing time together that their communication is intuitive. The airtight yet elastic grooves of bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin lay the foundation, but it's keyboardist John Medeski who gives the trio its voice. Whether he's recalling the soulful strains of Les McCann on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, copping Seventies-era Stevie Wonder on clavinet, sounding alternately bluesy and downright futuristic on the B-3 organ, or experimenting with the latest in electrical wizardry, Medeski is out front venturing where others often fear to tread. There's some sparse but quite effective use of guitarist Marc Ribot and Sex Mob horn players Steven Bernstein and Briggan Krauss on select tracks. MMW definitely has its groove back. (Sunday, 7:45pm, Heineken stage)

***.5

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