Chris Meyer

Free Magic, the latest live album from Medeski Martin & Wood, takes us on a boundless acoustic journey into the collective minds of this experimental modern jazz trio.  It isn’t far-fetched to imagine MMW playing a completely stripped down set, considering they began their career in 1991 as a group this way (until John Medeski realized that touring with a piano was quite the feat, and acquired a Hammond B3 organ).  Free Magic is a back to basics – if you can call anything they do basic – approach that highlights some choice cuts from their 2007 tour, as they prepare for only their second acoustic tour ever this October.  The album is a collection of carefully selected live tracks, which, as always, highlights the band at their very best and most experimental.

Doppler” starts the album off with experimental, tribal-like jam with layers and textures abound by the three members.  The intro then leads into this wavelike groove that just moves you.  Chris Wood’s bass at the 11-minute mark is absolutely thumping as he so deftly applies his uncanny ability to play the upright bass.  Martin’s drumming touch is so light on this song, while adding some great accents at points.  It is a current take on some classic and vintage jazz.

Blues for Another Day” has some seriously complex free form jazz playing.  These guys are so tight, and can communicate with one another on a completely different level.  At the 4:15 mark the song just stops, and from that point on, does a complete 180, going into a much more piano-laden smoky lounge song.  It makes you want to sit back and drink expensive bourbon (neat or on the rocks, your choice).  Medeski’s playing is so smooth and shows why he garners such respect in the jazz world.

Free Magic” the title track off the album is classic MMW.  If you close your eyes, this song can put you in a trancelike state; it definitely goes out there, and then brings you back.  The flow of this track delivers us from a real avant-garde, experimental improv piece into this bass-driven jam that is has this heavy, haunting feel to it.  “Where’s Sly” is a track that first appeared on MMW’s 1993 album It’s a Jungle in Here.  At the 6-minute mark, you get that classic jazz buildup and break, as the crowd shouts out its approval.  At the 11-minute mark, Billy Martin takes us on a metal percussion journey through a lesson into the art of jazz drumming that drives the point home that this guy is the real deal.

Closing out the performance on Free Magic is a piano-led medley of Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square” and Sun Ra’s “Angel Race“.  These may be cover songs, but MMW can play others work and make it their own with ease.  This track is a classic example of the musical conversations going on when these three get into the zone.

As always, Medeski Martin & Wood give us an album (whether it be studio or live) that gives the listener a great look into how tight of a trio they truly are.  While all being incredibly talented in their own right, the obvious chemistry that resonates when this trifecta shares a space together is astounding. It is no easy feat to create the style of music that MMW plays by any stretch of the imagination.  While being so avant-garde and experimental, they are able to find this deep groove that simply takes you places.  Free Magic is a perfect example of what it is like to catch MMW live and at their very best.

Medeski Martin & Wood will be performing acoustic sets during October, and have just announced a week-long residency at the legendary Blue Note club inNew York City in December. The band will perform 2 shows each night (8:00 & 10:30PM) December 11 – 16, 2012. Special guests include guitarist Nels Cline (Dec. 12), guitarist Marc Ribot (Dec. 13), and saxophonist Bill Evans (Dec. 14). More guests to be announced soon.

Upcoming MMW Dates:

10/03 – Fall River, MA – Narrows Center for the Arts
10/04 – Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre
10/05 – Boston, MA – Jordan Hall
10/06 – Albany, NY – Massry Center for the Arts
10/07 – Bethel Woods, NY – Bethel Woods
10/08 – Englewood, NJ – Bergen PAC
10/10 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
10/11 – Stroudsburg, PA – Sherman Theatre
10/12 – Huntington, NY – The Paramount
10/13 – Washington, DC – Kennedy Center
10/14 – Annapolis, MD – Rams Head Tavern

For More Info on the Acoustic Tour, check here:

Residency at NYC’s Blue Note:

12/11 –New York,NY– Blue Note

12/12 –New York,NY– Blue Note

12/13 –New York,NY– Blue Note

12/14 –New York,NY– Blue Note

12/15 –New York,NY– Blue Note

12/16 –New York,NY– Blue Note

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