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Published: 2014/09/22
by Brian Robbins

Medeski Scofield Martin Wood

Indirecto Records

The thing about magic is, it just frigging happens.

For instance, consider what takes place when keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood open the arms of their three-headed funky out-thereness and embrace the guitar wizardry of John Scofield. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the quartet last played together – it’s gonna be magic. It just is.

MSMW last gathered in a studio back in 2006 for Out Louder ; they’ve had eight years to simmer (not counting their occasional live excursions) and the brand-new Juice is the result. John Scofield once again proves he can enter the MMW telepathic circle and snuggle his “S” right into its midst comfortably, adding his AS-200 Ibanez’ voice in the most natural of ways.

Juice is built of 10 tracks: three of them are Scofield originals, written for these sessions. While “Stovetop” and “North London” are seasoned with you-can’t-help-but-shake-something Brazilian flavors, “I Know You” is a slow bossa nova groove, featuring luscious, big passages of piano from Medeski and swooping bass lines from Wood.

Billy Martin’s “Louis The Shoplifter” is living proof that monster percussionists can write sweet melody lines, as well. Scofield introduces the theme with a light touch while Medeski lays down a bed of big blocks of Steinway. Sco’s mid-song break is fiery, but listen to the weaving that’s going on between Wood and Martin – and when the drums break loose for a moment just after the 5-minute mark, you have to imagine that everybody in the room was grinning and bobbing their heads.

“Helium” – a loose-as-a-goose romp penned by Chris Wood – features a great faceoff between Scofield and Medeski, batting it back and forth like the fearless adventurers they are. The full quartet gets the writing credit for “Juicy Lucy”, pulling off a cool switcheroo from a few moments of garage rock (go ahead – name that tune) to a funky Afro-Latin jam.

And then there are the covers, including a “Sure – I can see that” take on Eddie Harris’ funked-out boogaloo “Sham Time” and a gentle reading of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a A-Changin’” to close the album on a just-right note. But then there are the unexpected moments, as well: yeah, that’s that “Light My Fire” – only Scofield handles the opening riff (originally played by Ray Manzarek on the organ) and the melody, before handing it off to Medeski, whose keys definitely pay homage tone-wise to Manzarek.

Perhaps the most out-there performance on the album is MSMW’s take on the Cream classic “Sunshine Of Your Love”. Clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, “Sunshine” finds the group taking a total dub approach to the iconic rock tune, deconstructing and reconstructing the beast to Martin’s smoky reggae groove. Scofield stays clear of any guitar god quotes: this thing is all cool vapors and unexpected references to the original from the most unexpected of places. Here the keys drop a hint of Cream; here Scofield’s Ibanez briefly scats a portion of a verse; here the bass wooooooomps out the “I’ve been waiting so long …” passage; and over here Martin keeps the pulse that manages to be both solid and gas at the same time.

Of all the instances when the term “supergroup” has been applied to collaborations, Medeski Scofield Martin Wood is one of the most deserving of the title. At the same time, that’s not what it’s about with these players – you can hear it on Juice.

It’s all about the magic.


Brian Robbins sometimes attempts a funked-out boogaloo when no one is watching over at

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