This new Medeski Martin and Wood release is heady stuff, certainly on par with the recordings that made the group something of an underground jazz legend in the early- to mid-nineties Shack-man and Friday Afternoon in the Universe. But while End of the World Party (Just in Case) reminds you of those albums, and even more so the trio's Blue Note debut of 1998, Combustication , where they explored the possibilities of groove cum ambient sound, the compositions, the performances and the recording on the new disc are more pointed and purposeful in every way.
This production job by MMW and Dust Brother John King provides the most clarity and depth of any project the group has done. Billy Martin's kick drum echoes off your walls from the start in "Anonymous Skulls" and the mobile throb of Chris Wood's bass(es) underscores the rhythmic aspect of the music in an emphatic way the more atmospheric approach of The Dropper and Uninvisible did not allow. If you have any doubt he's one of the strongest bassists in contemporary jazz, listen to "Curtis," where Wood is the backbone of this band's sound.
If you've seen Medeski, Martin and Wood over the last few months, some of these tunes, such as "Shine It," may sound familiar. Party is the end result of group improvisations on stage and in the group's Brooklyn studios from which melodic motifs and polyrhythmic beats were sculpted into a dozen comparatively short tracks in the four to five minute range. The cumulative effect of listening to this album in its entirety is much the same as seeing the band live: the development of momentum is imperceptible, until you find yourself in the midst of the sharp funk of something like "Ice" and realize how much ground you and the threesome have covered in terms of textures and beats.
It's hard to say how much King contributed to the construction of the album as a wholehe's credited with "a little of this, a little of that"but it's safe to say he kept the emphasis on rhythm. Some of the production touches, such as those on the title song, border on cute, but they end up being ephemeral blemishes that give way to more substantial themes such as John Medeski's use of electronic keyboards on "Reflector." As the billowing electric piano and acoustic bass waft through lightly exotic percussion on "Midnight Poppies/Exotic Birds," it also becomes clear how effectively MMW use space in a music that is otherwise as dense as any jazz on the planet.
Those who found their most recent recordings a bit too esoteric will rejoice in the syncopation that abounds throughout End of the World Party (Just in Case). And, again, anyone who's seen Medeski, Martin and Wood live in the past year will marvel at the mood and flow of this studio creation that certainly contains, apart from the physical presence of the band and an audience, all the best qualities of this trio on stage.
Personnel: John Medeski: Keyboards; Billy Martin: Drums & Percussion; Chris Wood: Basses. Guest Musicians: Marc
Ribot: Guitar (3, 5, 10 & 12); Steven Bernstein: Slide Trumpet (10); Briggan Krauss: Saxophone (10);
John King: a little of this, a liitle of that.