Instru-Mental Ill-ness

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There's more whacked-out shit flying around 'V2V' than you would even find onstage at the conclusion of the national Republican or Democratic party conventions.
Post-millennial takes on the classic piano trio and funky organ combo, two headlong tumbles into the deep thick jungle of dub reggae, and a jazz/hip-hop patty melt.

Medeski Martin & Wood
End of the World Party (Just in Case)
Blue Note
2004

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 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 feels 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.

Katahdin's Edge
Step Away
Incline
2004

Named for the mountain that forms the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trial, Katahdin's Edge presents a more traditional jazz keyboard trio mainly led by the acoustic piano of composer Willie Myette (who composed and produced all eight selections here) with drummer Mike Connors (also of Combustible Edison) and bassist John Funkhouse (leader of his own band, FunkHouse).

Myette's articulate, intelligent constructions intimate toward Bill Evans' soaring flights of spontaneous, adventurous creativity, especially as "Wagons of the Night" and "Full Circle" tumble toward their conclusions like roaring, untamed musical waterfalls. His songs also feature a sense of simple - not simple-minded or simplistic, but uncluttered - reverence toward beauty that in its best moments suggests Keith Jarrett lost in reverie or the Pat Metheny Group (especially the Groups with lyrical pianist Lyle Mays).

But as principal solo voice Myette's bows most often to such Latin-tinged names as Vince Guaraldi and Chick Corea. His piano sparkles with classic and modern jazz and Spanish and Russian influences that stream like spring water through his flowing melodies. He dances a laughing tango in "Enigma," where Connors softly thumps Latin percussion to stroll with Funkhouse's bass solo, and nimbly twirls Latin rhythms to end "Soulmates." His left piano hand, in tandem with the bass, supplely navigates the rhythmic footing to the Russian-sounding, galloping horse melody and thunder of "Zargonic Effect."

Myette's playfully yet sadly gorgeous melodies of "Wagons of the Night," "Traveler in the Dark" and "Full Circle" strike warm, beautiful pastoral chords, marked in time by sketched bass and drum brushstrokes, and climax in celebratory, joyous noise. Not simple. Simply beautiful.

Step Away proves a more than worthy addition to the modern jazz piano trio catalog.

IsWhat?!
You Figure It Out...
Hyena
2004

Merging jazz and hip-hop has generally proved more risk than reward, but IsWhat?! takes a fearless plunge into these troublesome waters.

Matt Anderson (upright and electric bass), Jack Walker (saxophones and flute) and Napoleon Maddox (vocals) make quite a splash with the sound of their debut. Guest drummer Hamid Drake (Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, David Murray) and DJs / mixmasters John Doe and The Animal Crackers help rock the beats: Imagine the sound of Digable Planets with bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders sitting in. You can almost hear that sound come alive in "Thump Loop & Scratch," an ambitious interplay between saxophone, bass, and turntables.


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