Teaming the poster children for contemporary bass/drum/organ groove (Chris Wood, Billy Martin, and John Medeski, respectively) with John King, the producer of such twisted GenX pop classics as Odelay
(Beck) and Paul's Boutique
(Beastie Boys), updates the classic Booker T. & The MGs organ combo sound for our swirling electronic age.
King's deft production here is sleek, not slick, and it works Mark Ribot's sharp guitar into several tracks. Just like modern life, this isn't entirely a groove. "Ice" is a tone poem cold and dark and hard, for example, and you may not have to look much further than the title of "Bloody Oil," set to Wood's recurring bass figure and Medeski's haunted house organ swells, to learn how MM&W feel about the war in Iraq.
But when it is time to party, the troops still kick it balls-out funky. Martin whacks "Shine It" and "Curtis" with a rhythm-stick taped together from New Orleans second-line and '60s boogaloo drum styles, while Medeski's cool, spare acoustic piano in "Mami Gato" wastes neither motion nor note and honors such spinners of classic soul piano grooves as Les McCann and Ramsey Lewis, even against the floating time the rest of the ensemble seems to play. Medeski leads the group through liquid organ grooves in the title track and "Queen Bee," stung as if by a swarming hornet by Ribot's sharp, Steve Cropper-ish guitar licks (this sounds so much like Booker T. & The MGs that it's got to be intentional).
Ribot's concise chops slice nicely into the thick organ stew of "Reflector" while the band tosses off sharp chords that propel the rhythm and beat forward, and the tumultuous "Sasa," also pierced by Steven Bernstein's slide trumpet, like a siren screaming through an icy starless winter night.
Personnel: John Medeski (keyboards), Billy Martin (drums & percussion), and Chris Wood (basses) with Mark Ribot (guitar), Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet), Briggan Krauss (saxophone)