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Extended Analysis

Medeski, Martin and Wood: Radiolarians - The Evolutionary Set

By Published: March 13, 2010
Medeski, Martin & WoodMedeski Martin & Wood

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set

Indirecto Records

2009

In an age when jazz is usually driven by individuals and fleeting lineups, the ability of Medeski, Martin and Wood (MMW) to sustain and reinvigorate their collective creativity for nearly 20 years is astounding. Never risk-averse—whether jamming with turntablists or flouting expectations with an all-acoustic record and tour—they've kept the music fresh for themselves and their listeners.

So it wasn't surprising when MMW took another tack for their Radiolarians series. They approached the process more like an emerging band than one with ready studio access: write new material; tour to hone and probe its possibilities; immediately record it; repeat as needed. Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set gathers the resulting three volumes and a bounty of additional material: a bonus track from each session; a 70-minute live CD, a 10-track remix album and a double vinyl set of band favorites. Also included is Fly in a Bottle, a documentary directed by drummer Billy Martin
Billy Martin
Billy Martin

drums
capturing the band in the studio and on the road with an insider view. Aptly titled, the material vividly illustrates the group's adaptation to the process and the music's resultant development.

Each musician brought compositions to Radiolarians I, the bayou shuffle of "Professor Nohair" the sole collective, and the pieces tend to reflect the individuals. John Medeski's "First Light" begins with two-and-a-half minutes of solo keyboard wizardry before his partners bring a leisurely groove behind the swelling chords and sonic manipulations. "Muchas Gracias," penned by bassist Chris Woods
Chris Woods
b.1925
, is by turns folksy and cinematic, with a harmonica-like sound playing a bluesy melody over windswept desert vistas. Insistent, rockish basslines propel Martin's "Cloud Wars" and "Reliquary," which finds him bashing with abandon on his kit and various shakers and bells.

On II and III, compositions are collective, the results more audacious, with visceral performances as the band settled in the process. On "Flat Tires," Wood's pulsing bass elicits frenetic retorts from Martin and Medeski's organ before ebbing for a light piano run. Medeski's percussive staccato piano propels "Dollar Pants," though he contrasts himself with a longer-toned melody, displaying deft independent control; his extended, inside-the-piano string hammering produces an exotic Asian sound on "Kota." Wood's shifting between acoustic and electric bass (and occasional guitar) also enhances MMW's sonic palette, sawing with bow on "Dollar Pants" and giving a '70s-funk flair to "Gwyra Mi." Martin brings a seemingly endless variety of feels to the music, from breakbeats and rock intensity on the surreal "Chasen vs. Suribahi" to AfroCuban shuffles on the Latin-esque "Jean's Scene."

The live disc is the most compelling of the bonus material, given the music's genesis, and comparing and contrasting versions illustrates the music's malleability. "Flat Tires" sprawls to 10-plus minutes in concert with several extended solos, as compared to its taut 4-plus minutes in the studio. Medeski's live execution of the pianistics of "Dollar Pants," without multiple takes, is even more impressive. The set ends with "10 Minutes of Our Lives"; though not included on the studio albums, it references many elements found across the series.

MMW has always encouraged the remixing of their material. For the Remixolarians volume, they brought in some DJ/producers they've worked with, such as Danny Blume, DJ Logic, DJ Spooky and Scotty Hard. Adding Indo-vocals and a throbbing club-beat, Blume's "Undone" diverges most from the original, but highlights its pop structure. Others hew closer to the source—it's fascinating how Logic and Spooky approach "Flat Tires," isolating different segments. The included vinyl set should facilitate other industrious DJs taking on the music.

Typically, boxed sets are geared towards completists and the initiated. But The Evolutionary Set is an effective springboard for a neophyte or chance for lapsed listeners to get reacquainted. It brims with feel-good grooves, adventurous collective interplay and memorable tunes—created with sincere enjoyment.

Tracks: CD1 (Radiolarians I): First Light; Cloud Wars; Muchas Gracias; Professor Nohair; Reliquary; Free Go Lily; Rolling Son; Sweet Pea Dreams; God Fire; Incantation (bonus track). CD2 (Radiolarians II): Flat Tires; Junkyard; Padrecito; ijiji; Riffin'; Amber Gris; Chasen vs. Suribachi; Dollar Pants; Amish Pintxos; Baby Let Me Follow You Down; Clifton (bonus track). CD3 (Radiolarians III): Chantes Des Femmes; Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down; Kota; Undone; Wonton; Walk Back; Jean's Scene; Broken Mirror; Gwyra Mi; Satan Part II (bonus track). CD4 (Explorarians): Chasen vs. Suribachi; Dollar Pants; Amish Pintxos; Walk Back; Junkyard; Gwyra Mi; Flat Tires; 10 Minutes of Our Lives. CD5 (Remixolarians): Undone (Undone D-Mix Remixed by Danny Blume); Flat Tires (Remixed by DJ Logic); Chasen vs. Suribachi (Produced by Mister Rourke); Kota (Remixed by Dan the Automator); Rolling Son (Remixed by DJ Olive); Free Go Lily (Remixed by DJ Spooky); Flat Tires (Remixed by DJ Spooky); Junkyard (Remixed by Scotty Hard); Chasen vs. Suribachi (Remixed by Mat Young, RPM); Reilquary (Qubti Mataraqah Produced by Mutamassik). DVD (Fly in a Bottle): Feature documentary, Fly in a Bottle, directed by Billy Martin: Video: , by Grey Gersten; Video: Ambergris, by Billy Martin; Video: CW, by Billy Martin. Double Vinyl LP Set: Disc I: Amber Gris; Amish Pintxos; Undone; Reliquary; Junkyard. Disc II: Chasen vs Suribachi; Walk Back; Free Go Lily; Hidden Moon; Padrecito.

Personnel: Billy Martin percussion,drums; video editing, directing; John Medeski: keyboards; Chris Wood: bass, guitar.


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