Medeski, Martin & Wood: Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians - The Evolutionary Set

Doug Collette By

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Medeski, Martin & WoodMedeski Martin & Wood

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set

Indirecto Records


Medeski, Martin & Wood is always going a little further, whether it's in the course of a live performance, a studio recording or the aesthetics of its music. Accordingly, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set is both metaphor for the group's restless ambition and a tangible product of it.

This box set of five CDs, a double set of vinyl LPs and a DVD extends "The Radiolarians Series" of 2008-2009 in the form of additional audio recordings (in concert and in the studio), a compact disc of remixes, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set highlights on vinyl, and videos in the form of documentary and conceptual footage.

Thus, The Evolutionary Set reveals even more detail of the process at the heart of Radiolarians, a project in which whereby the group wrote original material, played it on tours immediately following the composing sessions, and equally quickly rendered studio recordings of those tunes in the wake of the roadwork. Had the trio not been together for close to two decades, the self-created discipline might not have been so illuminating, but regardless, the revelations it offers about the musicians' individual and collective personalities illustrates the chemistry that creates such distinctive music.

Moving from one format of this multi-media package to another illustrates how seamless is the motion from the abstract to the groove-oriented and back again (just the way the threesome play on stage). MMW logic extends deeply into the concept of this box, rendering it more than just an indulgent exercise in commerce for the holiday season.

The original individual Radiolarians CDs are supplemented with one additional studio track, each of which might have been released as a single to promote the individual CDs if such promotional methods were still effective. As is, each respective cut actually furthers the overall mood of its disc as well as standing firm on its own terms. "Incantation" is just that, an invocation of the muse of atmosphere, while the bluesy shuffle of "Clifton" is ideal to follow close on the heels of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down." "Satan Part II" acts as an coda to the conclusion to Radiolarians III in that its noisy abstractions are customarily a segue in MMW instrumental parlance.

A live recording from Radiolarians tours was perhaps inevitable and the 70-minute plus disc included as Explorarians depicts the process at work within Radiolarians at large and The Evolutionary Set in particular . MMW expands and contracts through the likes of "Chasen vs Suribachi," "Walk Back" and "Flat Tires," effectively demonstrating a sonic time-lapse process. Given that the selections span 2008-09, the inner logic that leads inevitably to and through "10 Minutes Of Our Lives" exhibits the artful intuition of the band itself as well as engineer David Kent. The trio's sense of confidence is commensurate with its taste for abandon. It's a unique combination of virtues to say the least: there's not a hint of recklessness, undue restraint or one iota of sloppiness here.

The CD of remixes by the likes of DJ Olive, DJ Spooky, MMW engineering cohort Scotty Hard (whose take on "Junkyard" not surprisingly sounds like nothing so much as an out-take from the band's own work) and the band's own long-time partner in sonics, DJ Logic, clearly illustrate how dense are the melodic and rhythmic motifs within the trio's music. "Flat Tires" and "Rolling Son" are arresting from technical points of view, but also make it obvious how much more fascinating is the instrumental interplay of the band itself, if only for the spontaneity involved in their interaction. No question the material is ripe fodder for exploration, but improvisation in the moment remains more fascinating than digital modification.

Right from the opening seconds of "Chasen vs Suribachi" on Explorarians, there is a palpable air of mystery quite unlike the sterility of the remix work. As the disc progresses through "Dollar Pants" and "Amish Pinxtos," the atmosphere becomes absolutely charged and joyous to boot: snippets of audience acclamation only add to the atmosphere, reinforcing the sensation of reciprocal pleasure, the likes of which is impossible in the studio, whether recording or remixing. And unlike the remixes CD, the live disc escalates in intensity so that by the time "Ten Minutes Of Our Lives" concludes and concludes the disc, there's a virtual whirlwind of musicianship going on.

Medeski, Martin and Wood may not have intended to suggest this, but listening to the live CD is more rewarding—and more often worth returning to—than Remixolarians, unless advanced studio technique sounds more compelling than musicians in the moment. Likewise, the two 180-gram vinyl LPs of Radiolarians highlights provide Medeski, Martin & Wood a means of offering yet another slant on its music, in large measure devised by its distinctive format: two sides are devoted to funk, the other two are riff-oriented.

Fly In A Bottle is even more ambitious than the video included the previous MMW previous anthology, Note Bleu: The Best of the Blue Note Years: 1996-2005) (Blue Note, 2006). Cinema verite is overseen by drummer Billy Martin in a way similar to that in which he unobtrusively navigates the group during performances. The feature length video illuminates the fundamental attributes of the collective Medeski, Martin and Wood mindset.

The trio's independence extends from managing its own label right down to the setup, maintenance and customization of its equipment. David Kent is virtually a member of the group, and a palpable egalitarianism pervades the unit. There's no sense of friction, except the creative kind that's productive, and contrary to their usually taciturn stage demeanor, a sense of humor leavens the atmosphere in the studio, the traveling on the road and at the various locales/venues the group visits.

Footage of the band discussing arrangement and production detail on the bus suggests the meticulous effort it injects into its music, confirming how the group enacted the rapid turnaround(s) of the Radiolarians material. Shots of the threesome frolicking in the gorgeous upstate New York environs outside its studio implies physical activity in the fresh air furthers the flow of ideas; and images of boxers sparring alternating with concert shots cements that perception.

In keeping with the idea of the Billy Martin directorial effort is the inclusion of a pair of music videos as well as a Martin conceptual piece. Grey Gersten's "Incant Yo Chantes Des Femmes" isn't nearly so vivid as the music on which it's based, but it does extend the expert pacing of the main video content as it circles back to music-based footage. In contrast, Martin's compilation of black and white footage based on "Amber Gris" is more evocative, with the soundtrack and visuals evoking the creative process and the timeless quality of music. An abbreviated conceptual piece titled "CW" focuses to no real point on the relationship between keyboard player John Medeski and bassist Chris Woods, yet remains mildly interesting as, again, it's shot from the Martin's point of view.

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set demonstrates the healthy detachment Medeski, Martin & Wood has cultivated about itself. The lavish package reinforces the audacity at the heart of its ambition and bodes well for its future. It is illustrative of the sharpened perspective MMW has gained in the course of meeting the self-imposed challenge of its most recent work.

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.

Track Listing


Album information

Title: Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians - The Evolutionary Set | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Indirecto Records



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