Medeski, Martin & Wood
Let's Go Everywhere
Little Monster Records
Roll over Raffi and boogie on out Barney... Medeski, Martin & Wood are now cutting kids' records. Though best known for a brand of jazz that attracts 20-somethings, the Brooklyn-based trio shows with Let's Go Everywhere that jazz hybridized with elements of avant-garde, funk, trance, rock and hip-hop is also suited to seven-year-olds.
Appropriately co-conceived while bassist Chris Wood and Little Monster Records co-founder, Kate Hyman, watched their children during a play date, Let's Go Everywhere reflects family-room roots, featuring danceable, bluesy ditties, bathtub anthems and bedtime stories. And as the Little Monster Records' website for Let's Go Everywhere explains, Hyman and company viewed the album as a way to "introduce children to jazz without making it too heady, to make it actually fun."
MMW's decision to cater to their "youngest fans" comes at an increasingly interesting time in the context of entertainment media/children debates. Many parents harbor fears of a future where television and video games will supplant self-motivation and the imagination, become an imagination crutch and, ultimately, an imagination parasite. That defaults nicely into a good versus evil, all-praise-be-to-music: that lone, righteous imagination warrior who courageously forges ahead to do battle with the aforementioned imagination nemeses.
But Let's Go Everywhere does not claim to resurrect the righteousness of music; on the one hand, because doing so is not like building a cabin one Lincoln Log at a time, and on the other because the group isn't taking themselves that seriously. Even so, the album succeeds as an infusion of fresh and diverse sonic backdrops into age-old children's themes of adventure, travel and, most importantly, fun.
The title tune, "Let's Go Everywhere," is a Wurlitzer-scatting, electric-bass driven play on the Geoff Mack-penned and Hank Snow-recorded, "I've Been Everywhere," most recently of Motel 6 commercial fame. Sporting Tim Ingham's clever lyrics and throaty vocals, and replete with a backing choir of excited children (apparently the friends and classmates of MMW's kids), the tune is primed for sing-a-long, kid's road-trip anthem statuskind of like The Modern Lover's "Roadrunner" except with minivans, baby seats and less speeding.
The other Ingham lyrical contribution, "Pirates Don't Take Baths," is an anti-bath anthem that just might get kids cleanwell, in the shower at least. With a grand piano boogie-woogie that conjures up the MMW song, "Chinoiserie," the track's upright bass swing and story-telling lyrics destine it for play in porcelain places.
As imaginations percolate, "The Train Song" embarks on a literal adventure. A musical embodiment of train imagery, from the chugging Billy Martin drumming to the "choo chooing" John Medeski claviola, the tune cements trains amongst the album's subject matter: airplanes, pirates, pocket lint and nursery rhymes like "Pat-a-Cake" and "Hickory Dickory Dock." The latter, which is also a track, features polyrhythmic drumming that is markedly similar to the seminal MMW tune, "Latin Shuffle."
Further stimulating the imagination, and set to music reminiscent of those nature sounds clock radios, the spoken-word "The Squalb" is an enchanting bedtime story that is ultimately a metaphor for "be happy"appreciate all the moments in your day. John Lurie, of Lounge Lizards fame, lends a David Carradine-esque voice to a recording that, while admittedly contained on a "kid's record," conveys a message that maybe we should all heed.
A tune like "Far East Sweets" embodies Medeski's observation that most (non-American) cultures don't separate music based on audience age. Given its track context, the tune is the most sonically avant-garde on the album. It's also the most cerebral, world-inflected and most likely to emerge from the staff paper of Ennio Morricone. As Wood explains on Little Monster Records' website, that's precisely the point: "Kids are like sponges. We like to introduce our kids to a huge range of music, and they love all kinds of sounds."
Medeski, Martin & Wood have always been candid about their legacy. Proactive and proud of their jazz influences, they've done numerous interviews stressing their hope to serve as a jumping-off point, deeming their outfit a success if kids can use the MMW musical step-stool to reach Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.
It would be good to believe in a world where one MMW album can inspire the toddler community, effectively replacing mindless "kidult" sing-a-longs with "Let's Go Everywhere" diaper dance-parties. But the reality is that Let's Go Everywhere is not going to turn children onto Coltrane; it is a success as a children's album because it reminds listeners, "Just be true to your inner pirates!" and "Don't forget to call your momma (if you go to Tijuana)." And sometimes, that's really all music should aspire to.
Tracks: Waking Up; Let's Go Everywhere; Cat Creeps; The Train Song; Where's The Music; Pat A Cake; Pirates Don't Take Baths; Far East Sweets; On An Airplane; The Squalb; Let's Go; Old Paint; Hickory Dickory Dock; All Around The Kitchen; We're All Connected.
Personnel: John Medeski: keys, claviola (4, 8); Billy Martin: drums, eclectic noisemakers; Chris Wood: basses; Tim Ingham: voice (2, 7); John Lurie: voice (10); Dakota Martin: voice (6); Kids: voice (2, 5, 13, 14).
Personnel: John Medeski: keys, claviola (4, 8); Billy Martin: drums, eclectic noisemakers; Chris Wood: basses; Tim Ingham: vox (2, 7); John Lurie: vox (10); Dakota Martin: vox (6); Kids: vox (2, 5, 13, 14).