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Published: 2007/04/23
by Brad Farberman

Mago – Billy Martin and John Medeski

Amulet Records

In 2005, Medeski, Martin and Wood gave a workshop at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. They improvised, talked about improvisation, kicked out a Coltrane tune, and told stories. Regrettably, the only story that really stuck with me was Medeski’s tale of seeing Martin play for the first time.

At a Bob Moses gig in the late 80s, on which Martin was playing mainly percussion, Moses got up from his kit at one point and let Martin take over. Immediately, all the girls who were sitting at the bar got up and started dancing.

Not a bad first impression. But here’s what I’m getting at: “illy B” is badass, and you can tell from the moment he hits the kit. Likewise, Mago, the first duet record from Martin and Medeski, is rockin’ from the get go.

Here’s the story. Martin and Medeski first jammed at Martin’s Brooklyn apartment in 1989, two years or so before bassist Chris Wood came into the picture and filled out one of the best working trios the (jazz?) world has ever seen. Almost two decades later, with Wood out with brother Oliver much of the time, here was a chance to scratch a 20-year itch.

With a sound most reminiscent of The Dropper days (MMW circa 2000), Mago is a collection of fuzzy freak outs and funky groovers, finding Medeski exclusively on Hammond B3.

The driving “Mojet” is classic spy-movie Medeski at his best and, about one minute into “Apology,” we find MM knee-deep in a Meters groove. “Introducing Mago” and the nearly nine-minute “L’Aventura” dig on the other end of the spectrum, spiraling off into tense, chaotic explorations. Additional mixing was handled by Danny Blume, the same dude who chopped up Sex Mob’s Sexotica.

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