Stormy Mondays: 20 Years of Medeski, Martin & Wood

We’re going to close out a year of celebrating MMW’s 20th anniversary with a set of the trio’s bread and butter: improv. As much as Hidden Track readers are used to some improvisation in their music and even seek it out, MMW plays the game on a different level. Grounded in jazz and world rhythms, their approach to jamming is far more free and open than other bands; it’s an approach that let’s them jingle jangle through passages, and absolutely crush a groove too.

They’ve done whole improv tours from time to time, or tours with a set of improv and a set of written material, or only the loosest form of written material, but one of my all time favorite improv sets comes from a one off benefit gig for John Zorn’s now defunct Tonic on New York’s Lower East Side.

The trio played two separate shows that night, the first being a spacier affair with some gorgeous moments and a couple spots of bright energy. The second, which is this week’s feature, is just brilliant, an exercise in spontaneous composition. The band is flying right from the start, and the improvised pieces are often so fully realized, they sound like songs. Track 2 and the Bass Solo > Improv are real standouts to my ears, but the set is best listened to as a full set. DJ Logic sits in, as does Brahim Fribgane, the oud playing regular with Club d’Elf, a favorite side project for Medeski, and the awesome version of Ziphim here is the centerpiece of the gig.

By the way, MMW’s new album 20 has largely slipped under the radar this year because the band recorded and released it two tracks at a time, but it is a stellar document that speaks so accurately of everything that MMW is. It ebbs and flows from lazy strolls to dubby space to driving grooves, with a little freak out madness thrown in for good measure. With a mix of brand new material and fresh studio versions of familiar live tunes, it’s highly recommended listening for fans and newbies alike.

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