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Published: 2014/05/09
by Brian Robbins

Medeski Martin & Wood + Nels Cline
Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2

Woodstock Sessions

Whereas Medeski Martin & Wood’s (MMW) past adventures with guitarist John Scofield have been slathered in funk, their sit-ins with Nels Cline (six-string mad scientist who most famously hangs his hat with Wilco these days) are a totally different kettle of fish. For sure, there are moments that you can’t help but want to tap your foot to … but then there are also moments that will propel you to places you ain’t never been.

Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 is just what it says: the second chapter of MMW+C recordings captured in front of a live audience at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, NY last August. If there were any groundrules to things, they aren’t apparent; this is some wild-and-wooly stuff, my friends.

We join our heroes as they make their descent onto an uncharted planet (“Doors Of Deception”), touching down after a couple minutes’ worth of decompression and abstract atmospheric changes. “Bonjour Beze” finds the lads in the midst of a rainforest just as darkness is settling in. The creatures of the night begin to emerge, from small scurrying things (muttering John Medeski keys) all the way up to big lumbering beasts (gallooping Chris Wood bass and funkified Billy Martin drums) and things with horns and large, scaly backs (Cline’s blasts of 21st century Hendrixian squall; Medeski working over the keys in a similar manner). About 8 minutes in, all four of the planet’s suns rise – but they immediately bust up into fireballs, sizzling and spiraling off in all directions. Darkness prevails. The track fades.

But what the hell: in MMW+C’s world, the scenery quickly shifts and it only takes moments for “Mezcal” to roar to life – instruments kickstarted and gunned out onto the highway with nary a moment to warm up. Cline’s Jazzmaster busts clear of the pack in flat-out shred mode; the rest eventually overhaul him, however … and it suddenly feels like everyone is pushing everyone else way beyond their limits with a catastrophic crash being the unavoidable conclusion. But no – they ride handlebar-to-handlebar in controlled chaos at a blistering pace, somehow bringing the whole works to an easy landing.

And that’s the way of The Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 : big sounds; big pictures; big shifts in time and place.

Chris Wood’s bass is the voice of reason that takes charge in the early going of “Los Blank”; the others join in, clinging to the security of his groove before rolling and tumbling off into Apeshitville. (Martin eventually talks sense into them with an undeniable groove.)

Cline’s wah-pedaled workout on “Jade” is countered by Medeski’s keys sounding like the jazzbo souls of gargantuan coil springs; “Arm & Leg” is bookended by madness with a thick-soled Wood womp in the middle; “Conebranch” is a brief yawn and stretch that attempts to ignore the tension in the air; “Looters” is total tar pit funk, bellowing mammoths and all; and the closing tune may be named “Cinders”, but it sure feels like raindrops. ( Psychedelic raindrops, but raindrops nonetheless.)

Call it avant-garde; call it risky; call it weird … call it what you want: this is the sound of masters simply closing their eyes, opening their minds, and letting it fly.


Brian Robbins keeps a different kettle of fish simmering on the wood stove over at

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