Jazz is not simple music. It never has, and it never will be. Whether it was John Coltrane experimenting with his 'sheet of sound' saxophone tone, or Miles Davis turning jazz into an improvised jam based on modal soloing, or even Dizzy Gillespie's playing, Jazz has been tampered with enough to expand its influence into many other genres. One jazz-fusion trio from New York, Medeski Martin and Wood (MMW) has greatly benefited from bending the rules of jazz. Only a drummer, bass player, and keyboardist, MMW constantly fuse one aspect of jazz with one from funk or reggae, or even hip hop and make some really funky sounds. MMW have been a well liked fusion band since the early nineties. And theyíve got more than a few tricks up their sleeves, in addition to ripping off the name structure and instrumental lineup of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Youíd think that lacking a guitar player would make a fusion trio less than powerful, but Iím glad to say, Medeski Martin and Wood's music is anything but lacking in the groove and melody department.
Despite there being no powerful, rocky guitar, and seldom there are vocals, MMW's most experimental record, Combustication is a very easy to listen to, and change the three instruments into expansions of their imaginations. Even if Medeski, Martin and Wood are necessarily a jazz trio, what makes their record so spectacular is that it can be embraced by anyone, from rock to reggae. And the instrumental talent displayed is mind melting. Considering there are only rhythmic instruments, and only one keyboard, the three members really have to know each other's playing styles in order for this record to groove, and whatís even cooler about it is that it grooves harder than most other stuff out there.Different styles juxtaposed and compiled together help each song compliment each other. What is really cool is how they can jam in a context of a song. Like on 'Latin Shuffle' whose name does account for some of the sonic characteristics held within the 9-minute jam, showcases the band's talent to groove and compliment each other, even when each member takes an extended solo, which leads me to my next persuasion of telling you to pick up this album, just because of the instrumental talent, particularly that of Chris Wood. Not having a guitarist present can be quite intimidating for a 'groove over flash' bass player, but Chris Wood makes that phobia his motivation. He takes his upright bass skills to a new height, personifying the instrument into a world class suite of melody, and upfront playing. This doesnít mean he canít groove, either. He is often the center of the song, his basslines, ( noteworthy those on 'Nocturne', 'Coconut Bungaloo', 'Whatever Happened to Gus?' and 'Start/ Stop') being the foundation on which his bandmates feed from. Not only are they incredibly groovy and deep, but they are funky, melodic, and give Paul Chambers a run for his money. His bandmates are not shabby musicians at all, by any means. John Medeski, who ultimately leads the band with his raucous keyboarding, was a child prodigy, and made an audacious move by switching from classical, grandiose piano compositions to electric organ in pursuit of more jazzy music. Billy Martin is an incredible drummer as well, and more often than not, struts his stuff when the band mellows down into a more ambient atmosphere (Latin Shuffle). He throws in some funky offbeats and fills that would make any jazz connoisseur cream themselves. Point in case, the album greatly benefits from these three guys' knowledge of rhythmic perfection, and it really ***ing grooves.
As I said earlier, MMW embrace quite a lot of musical styles, and incorporate them into their bebop jazz, funky fusion style. While it is jazz, hip hop, alternative rock, and even reggae, and Samba music can be lent a nod in helping to shape the sound of the record. On the opening tune, 'Sugar Craft', a DJ accommodates the band by adding turntable scratches and odd synthesized sounds into the music. 'Church of Logic', which is without a doubt the funkiest track on the album also warms up to DJ scratching, and even sees a bit of sampling which reminisces of the Beatle's shocking Revolution #9. And Chris Wood gives you a taste of his talent as well. And on other tracks, the ambiance shifts from cool and laid back, with Medeski roaming above the mellow rhythm section (Everyday People), up tempo hip-hop like funk (Hey Hee Hi Ho), or even rocking songs that mesmerize you with simplistic grooves (Hypnotized). Everything on the album is fun to listen to, and never dull.But what I really appreciate about the record is that MMW defies the traditions of bop jazz. While most bop is upbeat, and faster paced, MMW make it fast paced, but with space in their playing. They do not shove thousands of notes in, even when the tempo is at Calypso speed. A very nice contrast to much of the other jazz albums out their, which wank on solos, and can get boring because there is more focus on instrumental flash and speed, rather on the quality of what you are listening to. Combustication doesnít have that problem.
Even if I love the album to death, it is not perfect. There are some very small imperfections here, but not enough to render your liking of the album. While John Medeski is a stunning keyboardist, some of the tones and sounds that he includes in his playing can be quite a bitch to listen to sometimes and can get annoying fast. Not what he plays, just the sound of it. It rarely occurs throughout the album, though, and not too big of a deal, unless you are epileptic. And when the turntables are used, the DJ can overdo it sometimes. I can really like some scratching when it gets in and gets out fast, but the DJ scratches for very long periods of time which are quite annoying. Other than that, no biggie. Everything else on the album is likeable down to the cover art, which I think captures the aura of the album. Nice work there.
Jazz, errrrr fusion, or whatever the hell you people call funky bebop jazz these days is quite at itís orgasmic climax on Medeski Martin and Wood's most experimental record- Combustication. For their first record on a real jazz label (Blue Note) , I really think MMW outdid themselves while trying to impress the record company. Thank god they did get hung up on credibility for once, because if they were not so busy trying to impress a jazz label, Combustication would probably be inferior to what it is now. And what is it now, you ask? Purely awesome fusion funk that is worthy of your money. Buy it, because you will like it, no doubt about that.