At some point, certain jazz folk may have stopped paying close attention to Medeski Martin & Wood. They’re doing fine, in case you were wondering. After coming to the end of their Blue Note Records affiliation five years ago, they went indie full-time, establishing Indirecto Records and doubling down on their bet that there will never be a bear market for instrumental grooves.
Last month, on the same day that Camp MMW roared into gear, the band released Radiolarians III, the final installment of an album series that finds everybody in top form, individually and as a whole. The material in the series came about through periodic writing retreats, road excursions and subsequent studio time. (According to promotional materials, the project was “designed to subvert the age-old music industry cycle of write>record>tour.”) This is a strategy familiar to many jazz musicians, but not half as common in the jam-band biosphere that MMW more recognizably inhabits.
I last caught the band during one of its live-workshop phases, just after the release of Radiolarians II and before the recording of III. (It was an all-acoustic show; here’s my review.) Since then I’ve had more of a chance to absorb the music, including the stuff that appears on the latest release. The three albums reside in my iTunes library as a full body of work, just shy of three hours of music. There are flat-out boogie numbers (“Won Ton”), likeably dirty shuffles (“Cloud Wars”), and tunes that seem designed to mess with your head (“Chasen vs. Suribachi”). It’s a lot to take in, even if it all goes down smooth.
Well, they’re just getting started, people. MMW has announced the release of Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set on Nov. 24. It will include all three albums with bonus tracks; a remix record (10 tracks, by the likes of DJs Spooky, Logic and Olive); a previously unreleased live recording (70 min.); a double-vinyl selection of highlights; and a DVD documentary directed by drummer Billy Martin. File under: holiday gift ideas for the cousin who never misses a Bonnaroo.
As it happens, I’ll be seeing Medeski Martin & Wood this weekend at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Other upcoming dates include a hit at Mass MoCA on Nov. 12, before stops in Boston (Nov. 13) and New York (Nov. 14). I’m looking forward to the show(s), since this really is one of the best live groove bands in business. But as the Radiolarians series proves, they have also evolved into a formidable studio organism. Their live energy and studio mastery have gradually merged into the same set of skills; for proof, watch the five-minute trailer for Fly in a Bottle, the Billy Martin film, below.
The song they’re playing is “Broken Mirror,” a dose of Ennio Morricone stoicism made all the more terse with John Medeski’s use of timbre. In addition to a riveting B-3 organ solo, this clip shows him making good use of the tools in his toolbox. I mean that literally.