Out Louder – Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood
The difference between this most recent collaboration of John Scofield and Medeski Martin & Wood and their first1998’s A Go Go is all in the name. A Go Go lurks somewhere between Scar Tissue and the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies (that is, of course, if said record shop doesn’t distinguish between jazz and pop), and Out Louder can be found right behind all the Medeski Martin & Wood albums. If the Talking Heads hadn’t already stolen it, perhaps a more fitting title might have been The Name of This Band Is
It would be nice to say that the difference between the two records doesn’t really boil the critical soup down to just a name, but it does. The first difference is the most obvious. A Go Go was credited to Scofield alone, with John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood listed as players, and rightly so. While there was little doubt at the time that Medeski Martin & Wood would one day appear in Rolling Stone’s Encyclopedia of the Twenty-First Century’s Most Important Jazz Musicians (should such horrendous sodomy be forced upon us for one hundred more years), the trio hadn’t yet done what most folks knew they would one day do.
In the years since A Go Go and on this record, Medeski Martin & Wood have proven that their name deserves to be on the spine just as much as John Scofield’s, and Mr. Scofield seems to feel the same way. The wild, flailing, spirit of MMW’s recent work possesses the elder member often enough to make it clear that he’s not the only cook in the kitchen. It’s hard to believe the guitarist would have ever played on a groove like Chris Wood’s Radiohead trip on “Hanuman” if he hadn’t run into these three, and all of Out Louder has a looseness that the distinguished older gentleman seems to slip on like a comfortable three-beer buzz.
While its suggestions are subtler than the names of its creators, Out Louder implies as much as MSMW outright says. If it were called Out Loud, perhaps all this speculation would be moot, but adding that extra er opens a whole new can of wormy, invasive suggestion. The central question is, of course, Louder than what? If nothing else, it suggests moreyes, Out Louder has everything that A Go Go had, with more. What exactly Out Louder has more of is about as tangible as a popcorn fart, but it proves that this is a band, in both the songwriting and the energy. MMW run wild, but not as wild as they might without Scofield’s adult supervision.
Most of the songs bubbled up from improvisation, so Scofield holds the reins loosely. “Down the Tube” drones off into the sinister stomp of an approaching hulk ready to smash down the walls of the old jazz club while all the riff-raff file in behind. It is very dark funk, and Medeski wallows in the rubble. Scofield rips through “Miles Behind” like John McGlaughlin on Live Evil, and Medeski’s B3 screams back with “What Now.”
While it’s a more democratic record, Out Louder still seems stuck on the two-party system. Scofield’s presence keeps the trio grounded and only on the outskirts of the saveage lands in which they tend to find themselves on their own. While it pushes the envelope, this band is rarely reckless. Out Louder is a modern jazz record, steeped in funk, blues, and chaos, but it is jazz nonetheless. The songs are Scofield’s leash: even through the noise, Wood is more audible than he’s ever been, Martin’s grooves are as tight as he wants them to be, and Medeski doesn’t drown in his own static energy. So what’s in a name, then? Go ask your local racks, and they’ll tell you: Juliet was wrong. This smells sweeter.