By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Guilty as charged. So before Shake can show love to the funky freaky sounds of Medeski Martin and Wood -- a visiting New York-based avant-jam jazz trio with frequent recourse to DJs -- respect must be paid to our own funky freaks and their mind-altering, turntable-structured soundscapes. As Le Spam, Andrew Yeomanson not only throws down rare Latin grooves; he erects the sonic scaffolding for a cosmic conversation among guitar, saxophone, conga, flute, horn, your mind, your ass, and your feet. The musical expression of Miami's promiscuous cultures all had to come together somehow; but it took someone of Yeomanson's synthesizing genius to make it all come together so good.
The same could be said for the music of MMW. By rousing the carnivorous beast that once was jazz and gobbling up the sensibilities of hip-hop, jam bands, world beat, experimental sound art, and everything else within earshot (check the Ping-Pong game sampled on the track "Off the Table" from last year's Uninvisible), MMW does what had to be done at this moment in the history of American popular music; only it does that better than just about anybody else out there.
"We're using everything we're exposed to," says drummer Billy Martin from his digs in Englewood, New Jersey ("The home of Dizzy Gillespie!" he proclaims by way of pedigree). "That's the spirit of jazz: to express yourself through what you've heard. We use the rhythm the way it's expressed in hip-hop, as well as [in] Brazilian and African and classical music. That's what jazz has always been."
That fusion of sensibilities has made MMW one of the widest-selling jazz trios out there, connecting not just to jazz aficionados but to hip-hop heads, experimental-sound scavengers, and weed-readied jam-band fans alike. And for all those Miamians who for the past year have been blanketed by the sounds of Spam like humidity in August, the promise of a ritual reenactment of MMW's deep DJ-enhanced funk as demonstrated on Uninvisible should prove irresistible.
Chris Wood is as sticky as he wants to be on both upright and electric bass, while keyboardist John Medeski gets his good foot on everything from a Mellotron to mall-ready Mini-Moog and Wurlitzer. For his part Martin strikes a balance between body-rocking beats and mind-blowing solos. "There's nothing greater than getting people to move to your beats, making people dance," he admits. "[But] I also like to take them to places they've never experienced before. Sometimes it goes over their heads and sometimes people really respond. I feel like that's my responsibility to expose the fact that a drummer or a percussionist can be compositional. He can create a lot of different sounds, melodies, or rhythms. Express yourself through your instrument. It's not just backing up a band."
Indeed MMW works as an impressively tight unit. "It's democracy," explains Martin. "We all lead at times and we all consider each other -- and that all takes discipline. The most important thing is that we listen to each other musically: to accompany someone when they need it or give someone space when they need it. You don't just talk the whole time. You listen and you add to it."
That's where the ritual comes in; during shows MMW listens to the audience as well. "We're sensitive guys," Martin says earnestly. "We feed off the energy around us. [We'll sense that] people seem to want to dance. Sometimes people are talking too much, so we'll just play grooves. Or wow, people are really listening, so we can get a little more creative and take them to new places."
Miami is a newish place for MMW. "We might have been there once a long time ago," Martin offers. "I think we had a van" -- which would place the stop around 1991, before the trio could afford an RV or tour bus. Before that, Martin did play a Hilton hotel in Miami during Brazilian Carnaval, so he knows we're ready for what he has to offer.
"They're no slouches there," he says of our percussion-happy citizens. "They've been exposed to a lot of stuff."
Bring it on.