Medeski Martin & Wood
By Doug ColletteSeptember 26, 2012
Any musiclover, MMW fan or otherwise, finds out right away that Free Magic
is not a simple sequel to the trio's previously released acoustic album Tonic. Keyboardist John Medeski's struti box and melodica inform close to six minutes of bassist Chris Wood's "Doppler," at which point percussionist Billy Martin's drums kick in to accompany acoustic piano, while the author of the tune pushes, pulls and bends notes from his double bass, making for a lively and ultimately accessible track that began in quite esoteric a fashion.
And while such an unusual beginning might well be expected from a group that has steadfastly refused to allow themselves to become predictable, they make the most of this opportunity to reinvent previously recorded material, offer never before recorded selections and experiment with unusual instrumentation. Four extended tracks on the album comprise the bulk of the sixty-minutes plus playing time, the one exception to double-figure duration a segue of Mingus and Sun Ra in the form of "Nostalgia in Times Square"/"Angel Race," that acts as closer at 9:26.
Their career and discography resembles nothing so much as a live performance, so it should come as no surprise this collection of concert recordings replicates the flow of a performance as well. Medeski's "Blues for Another Day" finds the trio erupting into furious comping in the piano/bass/drums format before settling into repose that reaffirms what delicate dynamics they can conjure up. And it's at this juncture too they take the unusual step of playing the blues straight, as if anyone needed a reminder Medeski, Martin and Wood long ago mastered the fundamentals as a means of transcending them.
might sound too arcane for its own good, but the title track, coupled with "Ballade in C Minor, Vergessene Seelen," interweaves the exotic sounds of the opener in almost equal proportion to the traditional piano trio approach. "Where's Sly," from their second album in 1993, It’s A Jungle in Here
, thus becomes a refreshing and emphatic close to a recording that, through the course of its playing time, develops an identity all its own...much like the band who made it, by the process of constant reinvention.