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Group pushed the boundaries between jazz and rock

Medeski, Martin, and Wood

By Joel M. Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

Never before have I thought so highly of a band after hearing them for the first time. But Medeski, Martin, and Wood, who played at the Somerville Theater last Sunday night before a sold-out crowd, deserved it.

The audience there was like the crowd you'd find at a Phish or Dead show. But unlike the Dead, and to some extent Phish, the music came before the atmosphere. And what amazing music it was.

Their sound doesn't fall into any category. They use the untraditional jazz combo of bass, drums/percussion, and organ - keyboardist John Medeski uses an old Hammond B-3, which gives him a huge range. "To a rock guy, we're jazz. To a jazz person, we're rock. We're right in between, and on the fringes of everything," said bassist Chris Wood.

These guys are no musical slouches by any means. Medeski was playing with Jaco Pastorious by high school. Martin is the son of a Radio City rockette and a professional violinist, with lots of Brazilian and African percussion experience. And Wood's background is jazz and classical bass, with time spent at the New England Conser-vatory (Medeski went to NEC too). The high level of training is easy to hear.

The show was incredible. They accomplish what bands like God Street Wine fail to do - fill the time between songs with experimental material without having it sound like noise. When they play their tunes, they groove better than anyone I've seen in a long time. What was amazing about the group was their unpredictability. Martin had total control over his kit, covering tons of drums, rims, cowbells, woodblocks, and an endless supply of miscellaneous toys I had never seen before. Wood switched from electric to upright bass and back the whole night and added in a bow to boot. And while Medeski had all of his keys and Martin had his huge collection of drums, I thought Wood only had his four strings. That was before the encore, however, when Wood used his upright as a drum. It always made you wonder what would happen next.

MM&W is a group to watch. Judging from the crowd at the show, they have the potential to do for jazz what Weather Report, Spyro Gyra, Chick Corea, and the rest of the jazz rock fusion people did in the seventies - make jazz popular with younger listeners. Billy Martin explained: "We'll hear stuff like, That's jazz, right? I didn't think I liked jazz.' But we've done a lot of crossing over."

At the end of the show, Medeski said, "People's attention spans are so short that they don't want to hang around for the digging, they just want to hear the treasure. But the search is part of it. Otherwise you won't appreciate the treasure."

Over the course of the three-hour evening I fell in love with MM&W. To say that I recommend them is an understatement. They have three albums out, Notes From The Underground (Accurate), It's A Jungle In Here (Gramavision), and Friday Afternoon in The Universe (Gramavision/Rykodisc). They also have a new one coming out in a few weeks, but Newbury Comics in the Student Center has been kind enough to put it in their listening station for now. Check it out.

Also, the Somerville Theater has added another MM&W show for Nov. 3. Tickets are $14 plus fees from Ticketmaster (931- 2000). There's an alternative place to get tickets - Songstreet Productions (628-3390), which charges an extra $2.50 to every ticket but may be more helpful than Ticketmaster. When I had problems with my tickets the day of the show (a Sunday, mind you), they took care of it.