I got to the Medeski, Martin & Wood party late and left early. Combustication (Blue Note, 1998), a funk gumbo masterpiece with a generous side order of knowing jazz references, was and remains a satisfying meal. But neither The Dropper (Blue Note, 2000) nor Uninvisible (Blue Note, 2002) did it for me: the episodic, cut and paste tunes and generally short track playing times were irritating. The band clearly had attitude, vision and a good weed dealer, but they needed to work on their attention span, not just flit from one idea to another like butterflies. Underwhelmed, I missed End Of The World Party (Just In Case) (Blue Note, 2004) completely.
Guitarist John Scofield too has disappointed more often than delivered. Plenty of technique, not enough soul: the funkier he tried to get, the less he convinced. Uberjam (Verve, 2002) in particular seemed like a bad case of the emperor's new clothes.
But maybe the creator does have a master plan, for somehow Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood's Out Louder found its way onto the playerand it's a delight, an arresting, inventive, developmental and groovalicious stew of funk, rock and jazz confusion. It's the second recording by the quartet, following the Scofield-led A Go Go (Verve, 1998), but this time an explicitly collaborative effort, and it brings out the best in all concerned.
There are two discs. The first is a 62-minute studio recording made in January 2006, the second a 45-minute selection of tunes from a gig at The Bowery Ballroom in New York near the end of the year. Perhaps unexpectedly, the studio disc is the strongest. Scofield's linear, narrative approach, which favors a beginning, middle and end, complements and focuses MM&W's penchant for vertical slices of texture and ambience. Certainly, John Medeski's B3 on Scofield's opening "Little Walter Rides Again," which is actually a lot more Booker T & The MGs than Walter, has never sounded bigger or fatter. He swamps the speakers with billowing great washes of sound and sustains his ideas through a satisfying sequence of tension and release.
Other standouts include the close on 11-minute "Down The Tube," a dangerous mess of funk driven by massive, near inchoate slabs of bass and deep organ, and "What Now," which builds into an out there collective thrash. There isn't a bum track included, and along the way the mood varies with the South Asian-cum-Latin American "Tequila And Chocolate," and a surprisingly effective five-minute reinvention of Lennon & McCartney's "Julia," whose melodic and harmonic recalibrations put the sentimentality of the original wholly out of mind.
Visit Medeski, Martin & Wood and John Scofield on the web.
Personnel: John Medeski: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Chris Wood: basses; Billy Martin: drums and percussion.