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Published: 2013/01/31
by Mike Greenhaus

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Still A Go Go

You recently did a few shows in Colorado in addition to Jam Cruise. Did you work on any new songs or covers for those shows?

JM: It was always very great when we get together. I think we’d like to do another album where we [build the songs out of improvisation]. All of us play in a lot of different types of projects. John has a lot of different sides and different projects. For us, it is really just great to play behind John.

JS: We have been playing different covers [including some Bob Marley songs]—we have been playing free and they turn into songs. The great thing about these guys and me is that we can actually play spontaneous music that sounds good. It is really hard to find people who do that. These guys and myself have really worked on that from a different angle from any other bands in the jamband worlds. All we have to do is talk about a thing—say something like, “lets do this song”—and we know it is allowed to go into whatever—or not.

JM: Even the songs we have all recorded have changed a lot since we recorded them. That’s why we put out a live album…

CW: It is called In Case The World Changes Its Mind, which came out the year before last.

JM: [On that album] we got to go back and revisit a bunch of these songs which are really different from the record. We really got to open up the playing and expand on these songs. Every time we get together with John it is really different. Those songs are designed as launching pads and it really doesn’t matter if we play a tune we record 15 years ago on A Go Go. It is going to be really different when we play it now.

JS: Yeah, I noticed that when we played “Little Walter Rides Again” in Ft. Lauderdale [on January 6] I forgot how we end the song. But it was cool because we got into some different stuff. We had a set format but thank God I forgot that. Also, we played “Scarlet Begonias,” the Grateful Dead song, because John and I were playing with Phil Lesh [this fall]. We totally demolished it!

Speaking of your recent collaboration with Phil, can you talk about your experience playing with Phil at Terrapin Crossroads?

JS: Phil likes us because we are good players and because we can improvise and that’s what we really do. The other guys in that band like Warren Haynes—he is a great singer and great guitar player—but I think Phil likes the way John and I improvise as well as the fact that we can play those songs. He is really interested in improvisation.

JM: We had to learn 42 songs for the run and there were only a few that I really knew before the rehearsals.

JS: The thing is with those Dead tunes, they are easy tunes but four minutes into it they do the song with two different chords. The Dead remember that when they play but, for us, we really had to rehearse to learn over 40 songs for four days.

CW: They are not difficult songs to play, just difficult to remember.

JS: Also, there are so many different versions of the songs. Phil would go, “that is the version of the song we did in ’83 or whatever—we don’t do it like that anymore” and we’d have to relearn the thing.

CW: Did you sing at those shows John, I heard something about that?

BM: It was Warren, actually, but there was a rumor they sang “Fire on the Mountain.”

JM: We kind of just sang along and mouthed the words. Thankfully, they didn’t let us sing. [Laughter.]

John Scofield, you attended the Grateful Dead’s first-ever New York City show at Tompkins Square Park way back in 1967. What were your initial impressions of that show?

JS: I remember seeing these guys with long hair and going, “How did they grow that long hair?” They had hair down to their backs and I thought, “How did they grow their hair that long?” Because I thought long hair was only invented 8 months earlier!

Comments

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!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=frreUA3A0Yk

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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