Keyboard master John Medeski thrives on the unpredictable, a trait that has kept his work with the trailblazing trio Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW) fresh and surprising for more than twenty years. With A Different Time, his first solo piano project, Medeski once again takes his sound in a completely unexpected direction – unexpected even to him.
“I had a more eclectic record in mind,” Medeski says. “I wanted to put out something that would be more representative of what my live solo concerts are like.”
Instead, A Different Time is a far more introspective, meditative collection than fans of MMW’s lively, groove-driven music might expect. Consisting mostly of Medeski’s own compositions and improvisations, with a familiar spiritual and a Willie Nelson song added into the mix, the album presents a different side of Medeski’s prodigious artistry, one which he was initially reluctant to display.
“In all honesty, it was a little scary to put this out because it’s so meditative and contemplative,” Medeski admits. “I know it’s not what anybody’s expecting, but it’s a side of me that exists. It’s really raw and open, stripped of all hipness. But it’s made me a little less afraid to just drop into the moment and play what’s coming to me as opposed to something that I know will work, something that I know is cool, something that I know will have a certain effect. The whole point is to get lost in the music.”
Not just a first for Medeski, A Different Time also marks the return of the historic OKeh label, once home for such jazz pioneers as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, King Oliver, and Sidney Bechet. Sony Classical has revived the label as an outlet for new jazz releases by artists like Medeski, Bill Frisell, David Sanborn, and Bob James, among others to be announced. “At this point,” Medeski says, “after everything that’s gone on in the music business, it’s exciting that Sony has come around to releasing new creative music again. I like the energy of being part of something new.”
While he’s become better known for a more buoyant, organ-centric approach that melds free-wheeling jazz with jam band eclecticism, Medeski says that sitting alone at a piano feels natural, returning him to his earliest experiences at the keyboard. “I grew up playing piano my whole life,” he says, “so it feels like home to me.” He began playing more solo concerts in recent years, and decided it was time to document that aspect of his playing.