For over two decades, keyboardist John Medeski, percussionist Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood's abiding fascination with the endless possibilities of groove-based music has taken them from intimate jazz clubs to outdoor festival stages. Their eclectic efforts have included a number of high-profile collaborations; the most prolific and successful has been with esteemed guitarist John Scofield. Following the concert performances issued as In Case the World Changes Its Mind (Indirecto, 2011), Juice is their fourth album together since 1998's pace setting A Go Go (Verve).
Where their previous studio recording, Out Louder (Indirecto, 2006), emphasized collaboratively written pieces, this session focuses on individually penned numbers and a handful of choice covers, unified by a concentration on infectious Latin rhythms culled from the African diaspora. This song-oriented approach differs dramatically from the spontaneously conceived free-form structures of Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2 (Woodstock Sessions, 2014), the trio's dynamic live-in-the-studio experiment with another equally revered guitarist, Nels Cline.
Juice opens with a buoyant rendition of Eddie Harris' soul jazz classic "Sham Time," establishing the date's celebratory mood and sense of camaraderie from the start, fortified by Scofield's bluesy lyricism, the shimmering warmth of Medeski's vintage analog keyboards, Wood's supple contributions and Martin's shuffling backbeats. Reinforcing the set's festive atmosphere, "Juicy Lucy" even borrows the iconic riff from "Louie Louie," transposing the indelible theme into a slinky Afro-Cuban vamp bathed in a scrim of dancehall reverb.
In addition to a half-dozen original compositions, ranging from the swinging "North London" to the introspective ballad "I Know You," the record includes three covers of legendary classic rock tunes. Although using post-war era pop songs as source material for jazz improvisation is hardly a novel concept, how creatively such warhorses are reinterpreted often determines their level of artistic merit.
Recast as nostalgic Americana, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is given a mellow, gospel-inflected reading that sounds downright Frisellian. Their rhapsodic interpretation of The Doors' "Light My Fire" on the other hand, builds from lite funk to an electrifying climax (courtesy of Scofield's progressively heated fretwork), but it's the psychedelic dub deconstruction of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" that is the most impressively reimagined of the three.
Considering its winning combination of tuneful melodies, danceable rhythms and earthy textures, Juice is Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood's most appealing, cohesive and consistently engaging release to date.
Sham Time; North London; Louis the Shoplifter; Juicy Lucy; I Know You; Helium; Light My Fire; Sunshine of Your Love; Stovetop; The Times They Are A-Changin'.
John Medeski: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Billy Martin: drums, cuica, talking drum, caxixi and guiro; Chris Wood: basses.
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