Medeski, Martin & Wood – Jordan Hall, Boston, MA – October 5, 2012
Words & Photos: Parker Harrington
An evening with avant-jazz masters, groove kings and funk wizards, Medeski, Martin & Wood at Jordan Hall in Boston on Friday, October 5th, could not have taken place at a more appropriate venue. Offering some of the most impeccable acoustics of any hall in the world, Jordan Hall pristinely showcased the same type of blues, funk, grooves and free-form jazz that the trio released on their new album, Free Magic. Coming after the release of 20, which celebrated the band’s 20th anniversary, Free Magic, like Friday’s show, features MM&W performing at their raw, acoustic best. Jordan Hall is housed within the New England Conservatory where all band members attended as students in the early 1980’s.
[Medeski, Martin and Wood]
Attending a show at the 1,000+ seat hall was at times as intimate as having a heart-to-heart conversation in your own living room. Yet, slowly building from a simple and patient percussive beat by Billy Martin, rich bass textures by Chris Wood and melodic keys by John Medeski, the band had an extraordinary skill in stitching together textured layers of sound, expansive grooves and wild improvisation to quickly transform the listener to a wide open space with seemingly limitless dimensions.
The 45 minute first set gave ample opportunity for each band member to showcase their craft. Opening improv work from the entire band morphed nicely into a piano groove with Medeski interspersing the free form that the band had slowly built with what seemed to be sheet music that he was reading from. After Medeski’s turn in the spotlight, Wood’s massive double bass had a chance to fill the expansive hall with several minutes of improv and soloing before segueing into 20’s Down on Me. Throughout the set, effortless communication had the music bouncing everywhere from a scat styled tambourine beat to dueling piano and bass notes. An absolutely gorgeous 15-minute rendition of Elvis’ Suspicious Minds closed the set to thunderous applause.
Second set was bookended by Doppler, the first track off of Free Magic, with a laid back and comfortable groove and an uproariously exciting drum solo by Martin. This percussive jam built in tempo and energy, evolving from an extraordinary passage with the bass and piano attacking each other and ultimately brought the house down with Martin on the stage alone. The heart of the set was highlighted by a song that had Medeski blowing into some sort of Slovakian bassoon, which looked like a tall, hollowed out log, which built slowly and gracefully into a powerful section that included Sand from their second album, It’s a Jungle in Here.
Just like Free Magic, Nostalgia in Times Square closed out the show as the encore in the beautiful hall. Medeski, Martin and Wood have an uncanny ability to perfectly match the performance with the particular venue that they are in. Given for example, a grungy, gin-soaked and smoky jazz club, the mood and rhythm of the songs seem to match. Yet here, in one of the most acoustically celebrated concert halls in the country, with intricate woodwork, grand ceilings and behemoth organ pipes as a stage backdrop, Medeski Martin and Wood performed a show that matched this revered venue. An attentive and respectful audience at the near capacity hall seemed to appreciate the intricate detail of the music as well as some of the more wide open passages.
Set One: Open/Improv > Improv > Improv, Truth or Suffering* > Bass Solo > Down On Me, Suspicious Minds
Set Two: Doppler, Fall River Blues (w/ Bass Solo & Drum Solo), Slovakian Shepherd Horn (Bassoon) Tune, Ballade In C Minor, ‘Vergessene Seelen’ > Ballade In C Minor, ‘Vergessene Seelen’ cont’d > Sand, ”Piano/Bass Chase”+ > Percussion/Drum Solo
Encore: Nostalgia In Times Square
* written by a guitarist John knows
# John on an original Slovakian bassoon
+ first known performance was a John Medeski solo show on 2010-12-16