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Published: 2013/01/31
by Mike Greenhaus

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…

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There are 9 comments associated with this post

me February 5, 2013, 03:10:07

Sco might want to invest in some hearing aids. Honestly, I will not see him with another line up unless he’s unplugged and acoustic, which will never happen. After seeing MMW for years, and loving their sound and improv’s, Sco basically destroyed the 2 sets we saw him with MMW. The rest of the band was about 20% lower than he was, the whole, danged, time. Seeing him at the Boulder theatre with MMW he was killing the sound. I should have complained to the front of house guy, the entire band was overshadowed everytime he took a solo, and often during his comping too. He seems to never turn down. MMW normally approaches perfection live, their sound is full, and the balance nuance and listening is reinforced by it. I couldn’t bear to listen to the tape of it out there because I knew what I heard, in person, and on my own audio snapshots I took of the show. Before that, the guy blew out Warren and Phil both, at Phil in Friends 2.18.12 show in Broomfield, CO. His levels were ridiculous, and he actually was pissed and made the “hurry it up motion and you’re jerking off” when someone else wasn’t dominating with his over the top runs and interpretations on Garcia’s charted melodic runs, which, as expected he read off the on stage computer monitors that Phil uses. It was pretty disappointing, to feel like he could have shined within the ensemble sound, but always felt the need to stand out and well above. And I’m sorry, but his tone of guitar I don’t find all that “jazzy” and full a lot of the time either.

Rick D February 5, 2013, 17:39:14

Sco doesn’t have the improv chops to go toe to toe with MMW, plus his tone is boring after a set. He limits the band live. There is much less improv and notice how few MMW songs get played when he is with them…You want a GREAT guitarist for MMW, look for gigs with Marc Ribot

Mr. Green February 6, 2013, 11:42:04

I couldn’t disagree more with “me” and Rick D’s comments other than the praise for Ribot.

Colin N. February 6, 2013, 13:59:15

I’m with you Mr. Green. I can’t say I’ve seen this quartet play together recently. I did catch them circa 98-99 on the A Go Go tour, except Clyde Stubblefield was on drums. John S. was echelons above the play of the others, though admittedly, as it was his album, he was the featured musician. Me: The concert experience you described is unfortunate. I recognize J. S.‘s sometimes abrasive tone is not for everyone, though I don’t see how he can be left out of any legitimate conversation as one of the best living jazz fusion guitarists. I would not put MMW in the same conversation in their respective roles, though perhaps you would. I feel your comment about levels reflects more upon the front of the house stuff, which you accounted for, though I might make the case more strongly. Sco is getting old, and the decades of touring have likely caught up with his ear drums. I feel it is the job of the sound man to adjust these levels accordingly—not Sco—as they are in a better position to judge the sound in the audience. Bands can better judge the “stage sound” from the monitors than they can the audience’s perspective. I too love Mark Ribot.

Rob February 6, 2013, 16:18:22

“Sco doesn’t have the improv chops to go toe to toe with MMW” thats the single funniest thing i have ever heard in my life

PJ February 6, 2013, 17:21:28

I don’t like MMSW, but like MMW, and I like Sco… he has the improv chops, he just plays his dumbed-down ‘jamband’ style with them and they in turn shrink into the corner. IMO, of course. Rick, check him out with Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow! Ribot is great but, come on… Medeski Martin Cline and Wood… that’s what I wanna see on an album cover!

Colin N. February 6, 2013, 22:41:31

I like Sco with Nussbaum and Swallow too. Here’s a clip from some early stuff. I love the color Sco creates behind Swallow’s bass solo. I’m not saying this is the best thing Sco has ever done by a long shot, but this conversation reminded me of this song, which I probably haven’t heard since the late 90’s so I thought I’d post it for you too. (Gawd damn youtube, you have everything!)

Steve February 9, 2013, 13:40:55

I agree with you Colin and is certainly a front of house issue regarding audience monitor balance. Nice link too. People never have an in between reaction to Sco’s tone: either love it or hate it but never any denial of who it is. Personally I love it all (though the latest live MMSW release didn’t thrill me). Certainly can’t pass judgement of two shows over a relationship of 13 years. At the very least, MMW’s musical instincts are beyond most and they very honest as well so obviously they have something worth pursuing. I would like to hear a 4th member match their NYC avant garde underground approach bit more with a repetoire for textures. Did anyone hear the Bluenote Nels Cline show recently?

Peachhead February 10, 2013, 17:47:29

weird, I saw the show the next night at the Ogden (after the boulder theater) and I couldn’t disagree more. I thought that the band had more or less even volumes (if anyone was the loudest, it was medeski), and I thought it was fantastic- definitely equal improv among all 4 members

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