John Medeski: Note Bleu and Piano Jazz
By Paul Christopher Dowd
Medeski Martin and Wood
For Medeski, Martin & Wood it has always been about the groove. And in the decade since their crossover appeal was solidified on the jam band circuit, MMW has remained loyal not only to the groove but to their New York jazz roots as well. On their new disc Note Bleu: Best of the Blue Note Years 1998-2005, MMW - John Medeski on organ and keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and percussion and Chris Wood on various basses - offers an overview of their cross-pollinated palette of styles.
As veterans of the downtown New York avant-garde scene, the Blue Note era of MMW represents a phase of their recording career in which they further incorporate elements of funk, hiphop, world music and more into a blend of overall sonic exploration. On their four studio albums and one live album for Blue Note, which are well represented here (a remix and three previously unreleased bonus tracks round out the anthology), the fusion of non-linear voicings of free jazz are coupled with the pulsating rhythms of funk.
The ghosts of Jimmy Smith, Sun Ra, Bitches Brew-era Miles and Cecil Taylor hang over the oeuvre of MMW. True to the spirit of both their influences and their own work, the trio continues to push the boundaries of not only their musical configuration and composition, but also the definition of jazz itself, eating up musical genres in the process. In fact, the trio is often augmented by turntablists, guitarists, congas and horns. The standout tracks "Sugar Craft," "Pappy Check" and "Uninvisible" are indicative of MMW's sound, where the overall essence and what has contributed to their widespread appeal is that this is jazz you can dance to.
John Medeski, busy as ever, also sees the release of Piano Jazz with John Medeski, a radio broadcast of the longtime NPR show with the venerable host Marian McPartland. Originally aired in July 2003, the disc features Medeski on seven tunes, including four with McPartland, covering a sampling of his influences as well as some originals. During the hour-long broadcast Medeski reveals his formal training, including his early days as a classical major at the New England Conservatory, as well as his influences and evolution as a pianist and keyboardist. This disc is essential for Medeski collectors for his affable personality, autobiographical anecdotes and the beautiful arrangement of his composition "Otis."
Tracks and Personnel
Note Bleu: The Best of the Blue Note Years 1998-2005
Tracks: The Dropper; Sugar Craft; I Wanna Ride You; Nocturne; Partido Alto; Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho; Note Bleu; Pappy Check; Mami Gato; Off the Table; Queen Bee; Hypnotized; Hey Joe [live]; End of the World Party; Uninvisible.
Personnel: John Medeski: keyboards; Chris Wood: bass; Billy Martin: drums.
Piano Jazz with John Medeski
Tracks: Conversation; Ba-Lue Boliver Ba-Lues Are; Conversation; Out of This World; Conversation; Bemsha Swing; Conversation; Threnody; Conversation; Caravan; Conversation; Otis; Conversation; Free Piece; Conversation; Bubble House.
Personnel: Marian McPartland, John Medeski: piano.