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Medeski Martin & Wood: Tonic

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No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Go figure. Just as the new thing (everything old is new again) to hit jazz, groove jazz, was taking off, Medeski, Martin and Wood, switches gears and releases an all-acoustic album. Many credit MMW with spearheading a resurgence of the groovy-organ and electric Miles Davis-style of jazz, updating it with DJs and turntables. Their last disc, Combustication was classified closer to the Beastie Boys than to just about anyone found on their new label, Blue Note. But Phish and Dead fans don’t despair, unplugged can groove just as hard as any megawatt outing. Recorded live and named for the lower Eastside hangout, Tonic, reestablishes MMW’s post-bop credentials without sacrificing the groove. The music is just not as loud. The acoustic trio posts four originals, and covers by Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, and a Billy Roberts-Jimi Hendrix staple. Their take on Powell reminds me of the late Don Pullen, whose rumblin’ stumblin’ style sounded, but never was, out-of-control. Drummer Billy Martin veers upon a noisy edge, transforming his drum set into found objects. Where the groove nation might demand instant satisfaction, Tonic supplies deeper meditation; it holds up to repeated spins on the old turntable (CD player, walkman, MP3, ...whatever). Their original, “Rise Up,” is a progressive American blues anthem, starting up and stopping like a train making it’s scheduled route. Bassist Chris Woods provides the engine and plenty of intonation from the hollows of his acoustic instrument, as he slaps, coaxes and wrenches his pathos. The disc ends quietly with “Hey Joe.” MMW languidly paces the Hendrix classic blues/rock, shedding a light to it never seen in jazz circles. The trio brings us back to the Woodstock era without being trite. Like the jazzmen before them who mined Tin Pan Alley for a connection to their audience, MMW speak to the baby boomers and the X’ers with a common language. Jazz is about exploration backwards, and more importantly forward. I plan to be along for the ride.

Track List:Invocation; Afrique; Seven Dead Lies; Your Lady; Rise Up; Buster Rides Again; Thaw; Hey Joe.

Personnel: John Medeski

Record Label: Blue Note Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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