Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood
John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood formed the groove jazz construct Medeski, Martin & Wood in 1992. Their sound is based in jazz, yet loaded with urban rhythms, funk, and fusion. Medeski grew up playing and studying classical piano and made the transition to jazz while studying music in college. Wood studied jazz with Medeski at the New England Conservatory of Music, and Martin was exposed to various percussion styles including Latin, African, and hip-hop as a native of New York City. The trio found a wonderful chemistry with their diverse range of musical interests. Their blend of musical styles draws energy from the contemporary pop music that the three grew up with and is expressed by a groove that varies from funk and hip-hop to rock, soul, and be-bop. After five years of touring in an RV and playing in small rock clubs, Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW) were discovered by a growing jam band audience in the summer of 1996. In 2000, MMW went on tour with Dave Matthews Band and played to sold out arenas. MMW has been successful on several levels, but its greatest success has been the introduction of jazz to a younger generation.
MMW use the method of improvisational jazz to deconstruct popular music and create their own smooth groove style. The groove is the strong communication
Members include Billy Martin, drums; John Medeski, keyboards, organ; Chris Wood, bass.
Medeski and Wood played acoustical jazz in Manhattan, NY, late 1980s and early 1990s; discovered musical connection with Martin when he sat in for shows at the Village Gate in Manhattan, 1992; trio released debut album Notes from the Underground on Accurate Records, 1992; released Friday Afternoon in the Universe, 1995; released Shack-man, 1996; debut release on Blue Note Records, Combustication, 1998; released The Dropper, toured with Dave Matthews Band, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Blue Note Records, 304 Park Avenue South, 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10010, phone: (212) 253-3000, fax: (212) 253-3099, website: http://www.bluenote.com. Website —Medeski, Martin & Wood Official Website: http://www.mmw.net.
and interplay the trio has when performing. Wood explained the group’s musical process to Carrie Bell in Billboard: “There is a jazz style, which is what traditionalists hold onto, and there is a jazz process. Sometimes we play in the jazz style and sometimes we don’t, but we always use the process to play.” The trio can play both acoustic or electric sessions depending on the album, show, or mood of the moment. For an electric set, Medeski leaves the piano behind and plugs in his Hammond B-3 organ, Wood puts down his upright bass and plugs in his electric bass, and occasionally they are joined by DJ Logic, who accompanies the trio scratching records and playing samples.
Medeski started his music career playing classical piano. At the age of 12, an interest in jazz was sparked when Medeski heard Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell. He continued to study classical piano but kept listening to classic jazz, improvisational jazz, fusion, free jazz, soul, and the local reggae and Latin music of his Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, hometown. Medeski went on to pursue classical studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. After his first year, he switched to jazz, finding much more freedom in its construction. Medeski was interested in what was behind the music and its process more than simply playing and reproducing classical pieces. Medeski then met Wood, who had also been studying jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music. The two played in the traditional jazz combos in clubs around Boston, Massachusetts, and Manhattan, New York. Both students studied under jazz drummer Bob Moses. When the two graduates moved to Manhattan to play steady jazz gigs, Moses suggested they look up drummer Billy Martin. Moses had met Martin at a samba class and knew that the three shared similar musical goals.
In Manhattan, Medeski delved into the outer limits of jazz in addition to maintaining his traditional jazz gigs with Wood. Medeski sat in with the Lounge Lizards and jazz great John Zorn and his group Masada. Medeski also played in lineups that included members from free jazz great Sun Ra’s Arkestra. In 1992, Martin and Wood asked Billy Martin to sit in with them for a week at the Village Gate, a popular Manhattan jazz club. It was the first time the three had played together. Martin had studied with various jazz musicians and absorbed a variety of urban rhythms from the Manhattan music scene. Martin’s tastes ran from hip-hop and Brazilian music to Jimi Hendrix, punk, funk, and improvisational jazz.
The newly formed trio of MMW found there was an instant connection. They soon began deconstructing the diversity of music they had grown up listening to and melding it into a groovy form of improvisational jazz. Medeski explained their method to Bill Kohlhaase of the Los Angeles Times: “We’re doing what jazz was doing in the ’40s and ’50s, improvising on tunes related to the pop music of the day. We take the grooves that we grew up with, the dance music that we heard, and from that create a music that has a little more depth in a way than jazz or other improvised music has.”
MMW initially played clubs as a piano-based groove trio. As their sound progressed further from the straightforward jazz scene, the group decided to move away from the jazz club circuit. MMW took a risk in both forming a band and giving up regular jazz gigs to begin cultivating a whole new audience for their music. At the time when mainstream jazz was experiencing a revival of the jazz workshops of the 1950s, where jazz musicians would come together for a single appearance, MMW decided to become a permanent formation that would allow for continual progression. Medeski explained the group’s reason for leaving mainstream jazz behind to Mitch Myers of Down Beat “MMW made a choice to be a band, which was not the trend when we were starting out. The trend was the opposite and very mercenary. In the end, what’s the music like? Every jazz-fest in Europe is now a rock and blues festival because jazz has lost the feeling. The reason it lost the feeling is because there’s not that inner connection.”
In 1992, MMW released their debut album titled Notes From the Underground on Accurate Records, which featured their acoustical side. The lineup included Medeski on piano; Martin on drums and percussion; Wood on upright bass; Steven Bernstein on trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Thomas Chapin on alto saxophone and flute; Douge Yates on bass clarinet; and Bill Lowe on tuba and trombone. Gloria Tropp provided vocals for two of the album’s ten tracks. Notes from the Underground was instantly heralded by jazz critics as a new and original avant-garde sound based in jazz. The album’s tracks showcased MMW’s unique style which drew from hip-hop, New Orleans jazz, country, funk, and be-bop.
With the confidence from their debut album, MMW began a long tour across the country playing over 200 shows in 1992 alone. The group traveled in an RV they had purchased for the tour. Medeski was forced to leave his full-size piano behind and picked up a more mobile Wurlitzer electric piano. Soon after the addition of the Wurlitzer, Medeski added the Hammond B-3. MMW’s sound began to change with the addition of the organ. Their music carried a strong resemblance to that of popular ’60s jazz organists Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Larry Young. In 1993, MMW released their second album titled It’s a Jungle In Here on Gramavi-sion. The album featured the lineup in their more electric form as they incorporated the music of Bob Marley, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and original funk pieces.
In 1996, MMW released Shack-man, which became a breakthrough of sorts. After five years on the road playing to small rock clubs, the band tapped into a new audience. Since the early ’90s, the popularity of so called ‘jam bands’ was on the rise. These groups mostly covered songs by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. Phish, a jazz-based ‘jam band’ had established itself as a top-grossing touring act. Phish had heard Shack-man in 1996 and began playing selections from it between sets on their summer tour. Almost overnight, MMW discovered that their audience size had tripled. The album became their best selling disc and rose to number seven on the contemporary jazz charts. The album was recorded at a hidden location in Hawaii which Moses had recommended. The surroundings proved to set the perfect mood for MMW’s high energy and brilliant funk-jazz sessions.
With increased numbers of fans, the group was ready for the support of a major record label. After reviewing several offers, Medeski, Martin & Wood signed with the legendary jazz label Blue Note. Their first release on the Blue Note label was Combustication in 1998. Recording sessions took place in Manhattan, and the album features DJ Logic scratching and sampling on three tracks. (Logic began appearing at live shows with MMW after they released Shack-Man in 1996.) The album features Medeski on organ, Wood on upright bass, and Martin’s heavy bass drum. It is a slower and less groove-based sound than Shack-man and shows the group’s continued growth. The tracks include the Sly Stone hit “Everyday People,” which begins by deconstructing the tune to the point of rhythmic obscurity only to be returned to the song’s more familiar pop sound. Another track features the traditional Hawaiian tune “No Ke Ano Ahiahi,” perhaps a lingering mood from the band’s Hawaiian retreat. The album is recognized by critics as the group’s most mature effort to date.
Released in 2000, Tonic was MMW’s second full-length album on the Blue Note label. Tonlcwas a return to the group’s first release, Notes from the Underground .The album is a live recording which was assembled over a nine-day period while the band played at the popular New York club also called Tonic. The set list included pieces by John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Billy Roberts, and Bud Powell. The band masterfully worked in their various rhythmic pleasures covering swing, Latin, soul, and even Jimi Hendrix on their cover of “Hey Joe.” Also in 2000, MMW played to sold out arenas while touring with Dave Matthews Band.
In December of 2000, Medeski, Martin & Wood released The Dropper .The album was recorded in the Brooklyn, New York, studio the group built to create the album. Many of The Dropper’s tracks evolved out of experimentation with new instruments and sounds. On the surface, The Dropper may be called avant-garde noise. The album features both the trio’s hard groove on several tracks and introduces a dark and moody tone similar to that of Radiohead.
Notes from the Underground, Accurate Records, 1992.
It’s a Jungle In Here, Gramavision, 1993.
Friday Afternoon in the Universe, Gramavision, 1994.
Shack-man, Gramavision, 1996.
Bubblehouse (EP), Gramavision, 1996.
Farmer’s Reserve, self-released, 1997.
Combustication, Blue Note, 1998.
Combustication (remix EP), Blue Note, 1999.
Tonic, Blue Note, 2000.
The Dropper, Blue Note, 2000.
Billboard, October 5, 1996; July 18, 1998; May 6, 2000.
Boston Globe, August 20, 1998; May 21, 1999.
Down Beat, March 1994; October 1994; April 1995; January 1997; June 2000; November 2000.
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1997.
Washington Post, May 3, 2000; April 28, 2000; December 3, 2000.
Djouls.com, http://www.djouls.com (March 12, 2001).
Medeski, Martin & Wood Official Website, http://www.mmw.net (March 12, 2001).
Medeski, Martin & Wood
MEDESKI, MARTIN & WOOD
Formed: 1991, New York City
Members: Billy Martin, drums, percussion (born New York, New York, 30 October 1963); John Medeski, keyboards (born Louisville, Kentucky, 28 June 1965); Chris Wood, bass, electric bass (born Pasadena, California, 25 November 1969).
Genre: Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Alternative Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Shack-Man (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps)," "Jelly Belly," "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself," "Chubb Sub"
Multi-keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood formed their trio in 1991, and by indefatigably touring colleges and alternative rock-oriented venues in the United States via recreational vehicle, established its high energy, loosely structured, improvisatory instrumental music as a popular genre unto itself. Medeski, Martin & Wood thereby stands as the premiere "jam band," with an enthusiastic following among young listeners and a large number of imitative ensembles formed in its wake.
Medeski, Martin & Wood's original repertoire has frequently evolved out of live "jams," launching from a basic melodic figure and simple chord progression (a "vamp") over a consistent rhythmic groove. Due to each member's personal skills as well as the spontaneous, creative interplay of the three together, a jam might last for twenty minutes or more, in the style of free-form rock bands such as the Grateful Dead or Blues Traveler (with whom Medeski has appeared as a guest artist). Essentially updating the 1950s–1960s organ trio format popularized by Jimmy Smith with rock, pop, soul, New Orleans, and reggae rhythms and a smattering of avant-garde elements, Medeski, Martin & Wood has also successfully applied its ensemble sound to jazz standards such as Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing," and rock anthems such as Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" and Sly Stone's "Everyday People." So doing, Medeski, Martin & Wood defies categorization and eludes definitive criticism. The trio has been described as both "too cerebral" and irresistibly funky; it enjoys a generally positive reputation in both jazz and rock segments of the music press, and wins over audiences by being at once provocative and accessible.
Medeski, Martin & Wood met during the late 1980s, while studying at New England Conservatory and/or working with like-minded musicians of the Northeast United States—among them drummer Bob Moses, saxophonist/composer John Zorn, the Lounge Lizards, the Either/Orchestra, guitarist David Fiuczynski, and guitarist Marc Ribot's bands Shrek and Rootless Cosmopolitans. Medeski is a classically trained pianist who has extended his virtuosity to electric piano, Hammond B-3 organ, an array of synthesizers, and sampling keyboards; he typically stacks them one atop another, to finger any of them simultaneously or at whim during a single solo. Wood performs on both acoustic "stand-up" bass and electric basses. Martin (also known as illy B) provides a loud, firm yet flowing beat, an interest in working with hip-hop turntablists such as DJ Logic and DJ Olive, and the addition of Latin and African percussion instruments.
Medeski, Martin & Wood first recorded as an all-acoustic ensemble (Notes from the Underground, 1992), but solidified itself as an electro-acoustic hybrid, as heard on its breakthrough album Friday Afternoon in the Universe (1994). Two years later, band members retreated to a Hawaiian shack for a month to record their best-selling album Shack-Man (1996), and upon its release toured on the alternative rock circuit H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere), which afforded Medeski opportunities to play with Rickie Lee Jones and the group Leftover Salmon. The next year, they performed in the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, and were awarded a high-visibility, midafternoon spot at George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival. The trio also enjoyed significant success supporting guitarist John Scofield on his album A Go Go (1997). Scofield and Chris Wood performed as guests of Government Mule on "Sco-Mule" (from Deep End, Volume 1, 2002), which was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category. Medeski also guested on that album.
All three Medeski, Martin & Wood principles maintain projects of their own: Among other activities, Medeski curates and produces albums for Ropeadope Records, Martin has his own Amulet Records, and Wood has collaborated with rhythm and blues saxophonist Karl Denson. Medeski, Martin & Wood's ambitious production Unin-visible (2002) includes spoken-word contributions by Col. Bruce Hampton and backgrounds by the five-man Antibalas Horns. Medeski, Martin & Wood songs have been used on movie soundtracks, including that of Jerry Seinfeld's feature-length film, Comedian (2002). In 2003, the trio traveled widely, from the University of Vermont to the Hollywood Bowl, from Calgary, Alberta, to San Sebastian, Spain. The band shows no signs of slowing the pace of its busy schedule, and there is every indication that it has more ideas to inject into its patented "jam band" format.
Notes from the Underground (hap-Jones, 1992); It's a Jungle in Here (Gramavision, 1993); Friday Afternoon in the Universe (Gramavision, 1994); Shack-Man (Gramavision, 1996); Bubblehouse EP (Gramavision, 1996); Farmers Reserve (Indirecto, 1997); Combustication (Blue Note, 1998); Tonic (Blue Note, 1999); Medeski Martin & Wood Best Of (1991–1996) (Ryko/Gramavision, 1999); The Dropper (Blue Note, 1999–2000); Uninvisible (Blue Note, 2002). Soundtrack: Get Shorty (Verve, 1995).