I love music that makes me think. If any song from any band spanning any genre gets my intellectual rabbit ears pointy, then it’s okay by me. That generally means that most jazz is okay with me. I love my mind-stimulating music to be groovy, too. It is, after all, a tune, and therefore is designed to cause enjoyment to those who listen to it. Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW) cause just such enjoyment. If you could see me now, you’d take notice of the fact that I greatly resemble Bugs Bunny as I listen to their latest studio album End of the World Party (Just in Case)
(EWP). Misters John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Chris Wood have talent. Serious talent. Syncopated grooves combine with fever dream soundscapes, to create a creative, free-form feeling, without straying too far from traditional jazziness of jazz. EWP
shows how you can experiment with something that should be simple, make it complex, and yet keep it easy to listen to. After all, jazz should be relaxing, right? The trio’s own ambitions are bolstered by the work of Dust Brother producer John King (Beck
, Beastie Boys
, Linkin Park
“Anonymous Skulls," the opening track, showcases just how much King has influenced MMW. Here, we find Medeski increasing his ever growing palette of keyboards (beyond his usual Hammond organ and piano). Conversely, Wood and Martin perform in a more restrictive manner, most likely due to King’s work. The result is a coherent, funky rhythm, that sounds like it belongs in a science fiction movie or role-playing video game. The title track continues the mood of free expressionalism. MMW flow together with perfect synergy, while keeping things simple, yet multilayered. Next up, we have “Reflector," which is quite possibly the most traditional song as of yet. However, it is, by no means, a retread. Perfect instrumentation combine with spectacularly tight results. It’s hard to describe the overall feel of this song (or any other on the album, for that matter), as it all meshes together in such excellent order. I hesitate to use the word “perfection" when I’ve only briefly described the three opening tracks, but I will say that they are all a most worthy experience for anyone.
“Bloody Oil" has a slightly trippier feel to it. While the first three songs seemed to feature a “spacey" theme, this one has something that I would describe as a “hallucinating Egyptian" theme. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that that makes little to no sense, but it’s probably the most apt way to describe this song. Again, everything culminates in near-perfect harmony, which appears to be a running theme on this album. If more artists wrote music in this fashion, I’d be a very happy reviewer (as I’m sure you, the reader, would be, from a reader’s point of view). “New Planet" is relaxing. While its predecessors either demand total attention or an abject sense of calm, “New Planet" is (and I’m totally serious) perfect background noise. Now, why debauch such excellence by calling it noise? Well, that’s what music is, just with the anti-thesis of inanity instilled within it.
We continue on with “Mami Gato." First and foremost, I have to mention the fact that I am infatuated with the piano work on this song. It’s basic, harmonious, and very, very catchy. Listen to it a few times, and you’ll find yourself humming along to it, guaranteed. The brilliance that is the piano overlays a steady groove that, once again, leaks perfect synergy. “Shine It" is probably most memorable for the fantastic drumming that it features. Not to detract from the value of the other instruments (on this or any other song), but I just really like the use of percussion on this one. We have now come to the funk that is “Curtis." “Toe-tapping ambience with a sense of style." That’s more or less how I would sum this one up.
The pure elation that is “Ice" follows. For the first time, all of the instruments appear to have hit their stride at the exact same time. It’s a nice, rhythm-driven tune that uses a simple K.I.S.S. format (a clever acronym for keep it simple, stupid; minus the clever part). Ah, we’ve now come to what I would consider to be my “favorite" song on the album. I use quotations because the sheer glory that can be derived from these songs differs depending on the listener’s mood. After all, jazz is a genre of music closely linked to emotion. However, I will easily admit that “Sasa" more often than not, proves to be the most enjoyable song on EWP
(at least for me as a listener). Again, I find it hard to describe something that I hold in such high-regard. I’ll put this one on “repeat" for a little while, however, I doubt I’ll find anything to complain about.
“Midnight Poppies/Crooked Birds" is by far the most “out there" track on the album. Therefore, it makes for incredibly easy listening. However, this also makes it the weakest tune on the album. However by “weak" I mean “damned impressive," were it any other artist or any other album. The end of the experience that is known to us as EWP
is titled “Queen Bee." This song is probably the musical embodiment of straight forwardness: it shows its true colors right from the get-go, and like a fine wine, improves with age. I’d wager that you couldn’t find a more appropriate selection off of this album to end with.
All in all, EWP
is quite possibly the reason why you should be happy that MMW transcended the traditional acoustical jazz that made them underground legends in the early 90s. It’s quite possibly as near to “perfect" as any album that I’ve ever heard. If you ever want to listen to some stand-up music, with a great sense of groove, and the ability to put you into a state of musically-related ecstasy, then this is one of the highest recommendations that I can dole. Even if this isn’t your “thing," just give it a listen, and prepare to be blown out of this world in one of the most relaxingly subtle ways possible.