By Andy J. Gordon
Medeski, Martin & Wood (www.mmw.net/) brought their unique blend of free jazz, soul, funk, and electonica to the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles (www.theelrey.com/) on Thursday, February 18. The band is touring in celebration of the release of “Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set,” a box set from their label, Indirecto Records. MMW play music that is not what anyone would consider radio friendly. There are no vocals, and their style, although rooted in jazz, does not easily fit into a set category. Their knowledgeable and dedicated fans certainly don’t seem to mind. On this night, everyone in attendance enjoyed an improvisational exploration of music without boundaries.
John Medeski on grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, and an array of electronic effects offered a wide range of keyboard pyrotechnics. Billy Martin on drums and percussion delivered a solid beat while see-sawing between soft interludes and machine-gun-like blistering volleys. Chris Wood played both upright bass, and electric bass guitar. He played with a chest thumping consistency that kept the audience bouncing. Each band member played solos throughout the two-set show that highlighted their talents. During the first set, Medeski also played a saxophone with a distortion effect. In the second set, on a couple of songs, he played a portable keyboard attached to a flexible tube with a mouthpiece that he blew into. It produced a strange, hypnotic sound.
While the crowd enjoyed the show, it seemed many were disappointed that the band failed to play some of their older, more recognizable material. The show emphasized their more recent recordings, particularly from the “Radiolarians” series like “Free Go,” “Junkyard,” and “Won Ton.” After a brief break, the band came out for a one-song encore. It featured Medeski on grand piano, and Wood on upright bass. After the show, the band greeted fans and signed CDs. Their music may not be radio friendly, but it is sophisticated, complicated, and strangely addictive. LA was lucky to hear them in person.
Photos courtesy of Brigitte Bard.