Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Still A Go Go
“At this point, we’re a band,” keyboardist John Medeski says about Medeski Martin & Wood’s occasional collaboration with guitarist John Scofield. Though Medeski’s statement seems obvious, MMW’s interactive with Scofield has changed considerably since the trio first backed the former Miles Davis guitarist on his 1998 groove classic A Go Go. During their initial recordings sessions with Sco, Medeski, bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin functioned primarily as support musicians. The quartet never formally toured with Scofield and, when they did come together for select festival dates or one-off appearances, they were billed as something of a collaborative super-group.
It wasn’t until the musicians reconvened to record 2006’s Out Louder, they truly started to combine their DNA and form a tried-and-true band of equals—they even shuffled their name to Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood highlight their new approach.
With the exception of a live album, MSMW haven’t released any music during the past seven years but they continue to play together when their other commitments allow. While on Jam Cruise, the four musicians sat down for a rare joint interview to discuss MSMW’s continued evolution and their recent live shows. Scofield also gave us the scoop on his new studio album, which will reunite him with his classic Uberjam ensemble.
John, after playing more straight-ahead jazz and even some gospel music in recent years, you are going to focus on your groove-jam project Uberjam this year. Who is in the group at this point and who will appear on your new album?
John Scofield: It is the original Uberjam lineup, except Andy Hess is on bass [instead of Jesse Murphy, who plays in Brazilian Girls]. He was on the second album we did, Up All Night. Adam Deitch is on drums and Avi Bortnick is on guitar and samples. Special guest John Medeski is on keyboards, and Louis Cato also played drums on a few tracks. You might know him as the bassist in Eric Krasno’s solo project Chapter 2. He is an amazing drummer as well [Cato and Deitch will alternate dates with the band in 2013.]
It has been a decade since you have recorded with this band. What inspired you to reunite these players and have you been writing new music for the project all along?
JS: It is cool to give it a lot of time—I like doing different types of projects. I had some stuff I hadn’t really finished and Avi had a bunch of music. He was nice enough to let me take his music and add to it—and vice versa. So we co-wrote a bunch of tunes.
Where did you record the album?
JS: We recorded it Sear Sounds on W. 48 in New York City. It is called Uberjam Dos and it will come out this spring.
Moving to your current collaboration with MMW, do you plan to enter the studio anytime soon?
JS: We are trying to do some new stuff. It is always great to play with these guys.
Chris Wood: We’ve been talking about doing some recording but nothing has been planned so far. As of now, all we have on the books for MSMW is Jam Cruise and the two gigs we did in December.
John Medeski: At this point, we’re a band. The first time we got together was for John’s album, A Go Go.
JS: There is a little contention on when we first met, actually. Nobody can quite remember when it was but that album was released in 1998. I think 1996 was when I made the initial phone call.
CW: You had already heard Shack-Man then, right?
JS: I’d been stalking you guys, and I had heard all your records. I was on Gramavision, too. That is actually the first time I heard you—your first record with them. I had heard of Billy and John, too. Bass you don’t think of because it is bass [Laughter.] They were around the New York scene.
Of course, there is the famous story of how you did not know how to contact them so you called their fan hotline.
JS: We are pre-internet!
John Medeski, you mention that you guys are a real band now. Can you talk about how the band’s dynamics have shifted since you first played with John? At first, you really just backed him on his record.
JM: We had the first record with John [after which John, Chris and James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield backed Scofield, though Martin missed the tour since he was on his honeymoon]. After that we did a few festivals and would play together on occasion. There was a lot of cross-pollination—certain things we had in common. A Go Go was the record where people turned around and said to us, “We love A Go Go, we love that record.” So we got together and made another record, Out Louder. We went out and toured on that record and it felt great—it is always so natural when we play together. For that year when we toured behind the record, we played together a lot then we all went off and did different projects. But we kept running into each other and doing different things and we’d always say, “We got to do this again.” Every once and a while we will get a festival offer and try to fit a few dates in.
Billy Martin: From the very beginning, when we did A Go Go, it was so easy. It was this instant connection. We all have so much in common: jazz and an interest in New Orleans music and this rhythmic, Afro-stuff. It is always so easy to play with John: all we have to do is set up a gig. It’s not like we have to have a rehearsal. It is very effortless.
JM: We collaborated on [the writing for] Out Louder. What happened was every night when we were on tour we had these spontaneous moments.
JS: We improvised a lot…