March 4, 2008

MMW Takes Ithaca to (Funky) Town

Print More

Last Thursday, The State Theatre was transformed into another planet with Martin, Medeski and Wood’s otherworldy music. Though not a full house, MMW drew out a devoted crowd, and even pulled them out of their plush theatre seats for a classic Ithaca Hippie shuffle.
The audience members standing —already beyond the edge of their seats — were captivated from the start. Beginning with a trancy, harmonic song to get everyone going, they quickly progressed into the funky. Their performance was splashed with creative solos from each member. Martin’s drum solos changed outfits by drawing upon a wardrobe of about 25 different percussion instruments. He even had the other two join him in a mini-drum circle in the middle of the performance. Wood ripped on both stand-up and electric bass — and by ripped, I mean he plucked, picked, strummed, used a bow and knocked on the back of his instruments. And of course Medeski kept it funky with a piano and all sorts of electric keyboards/organs; mellotron, melodica and clavinet.
MMW is not a band that’s easily categorized. Call them a mix of funk, fusion, soul jazz, free jazz, acid jazz or jam band just to keep it simple. Very avante-garde, very hard grooves. They are known for live concerts with extended improvisations, sometimes arrhythmic and atonal yet still interesting and totally funky.
Spawned out of NYC’s jazz scene in the early ’90s, the three members were seeking to create music that expressed their individuality. They began experimenting with hip-hop beats with swinging jazz rhythms but kept it simple, allowing for hypnotic effects and room for improvisation. Their music perpetuates itself as they look to continually evolve, yet they always follow their gut and go by instinct.
The creative energy that resonated from the stage is reflected in their busy schedule ahead. MMW’s visit to Ithaca is one stop on their northeast tour, before they head overseas to Israel and Europe. Their spontaneous solos, jams and melodies are unique to each tour and will serve as material for each of three corresponding albums to be recorded before this summer. This is after having just put out an album, Out Louder, with John Scofield and their first children’s album Let’s Go Everywhere, demonstrating that children too can listen to quality jazz and not just Barney songs.
Their work doesn’t stop there — to the audience’s excitement they also announced a “MMW summer camp” in the Catskills in which they will invite musicians of all ages to participate in “intensive workshops and seminars, deep listening, musical exploration, and improvisation.”
How do they perpetuate such energy? They maintain a healthy Ménage à trois by taking time for personal projects; The Wood Brothers are touring this spring for release of their album Loaded, Medeski is traveling to Peru to visit a children’s home and Martin is performing solo and conducting master classes in New York this spring.
Immediately evident from their playing on stage together, they “have a certain chemistry between (them), musically” says Martin. Additionally they balance each other out on the road: Medeski serving as the band’s chef, Martin being Mr. Fix-it and maintaining the band’s RV, and Wood’s ability to take care of the accounting. What a relationship.
After the three performers left the stage last Thursday, a heavy applause brought them back on for encore. Performing their classic “Bubblehouse” with unanticipated twists, time changes and improvisations, everyone was up and grooving. Perhaps the person enjoying himself the most was the lighting man; throwing in appropriate flashes of light and eerie reds.
It is musicians like these, continually evolving and pouring their unending creativity into their music that remind us that change and renewal in life are beautiful things — and (according to George Clinton) sometimes you just have to say: “Funk it!”