Medeski Martin & Wood, Tower Records, 4th and Broadway, NYC- 4/9
The Tower Records on 4th and Broadway was packed with people watching the Fresh Prince. People were sandwiched between racks of CD’s and DVD’s. People were leaning over the railings on the second floor. People were lining the staircase and were clustered on the second floor platform. People were periodically popping up in the windows along 4th Street, grasping the frames, hoping for a peek at the Fresh Prince, which was being broadcast on five wall-mounted televisions the bordered the main floor. One TV, however, was blank, and underneath it, Medeski, Martin and Wood were getting down during a short set to celebrate the release of their new album Uninvisible.
The trio played six tunes, most from the new release, and even though I hadn’t heard any of them previously, it was apparent that the rumors were true. The new joint is loaded with tight, funky grooves that hearken back to the MMW of the mid-nineties. The performance itself had the loose, improvisational energy from The Dropper, but the compositions were far more cohesive and accessible- a really fine mix, actually.
The opener was fairly bombastic and the music filled the room quickly and completely. Medeski’s melodies were distinct and clean, grounding the groove and setting heads a-bobbing. The transition to the second number was decorated by Billy Martin, who did his Bob Moses thing, pulling out rattles and shakers, while Chris Wood switched to an upright bass. Few drummers are as clearly derivative as Billy Martin.
The third song of the set was easily the most exploratory. Chris was back on electric, digging in with new life. Medeski unleashed a series of high-flying leads that climbed a flutter of notes and arched over his band mates with broad plateaus- a group of dangerous Road Runner precipices. Billy was slapping and kicking a big bass drum through a series of clunky stops and starts. Nonetheless the movement swelled into a ball of molten stone before collapsing on itself. Only Martin survived the disintegration, and he treated everyone to an extended, jazzier solo. In the final moments, first Chris, then Chris and John teased the power chords from Fire. The crowd responded immediately and the trio jumped into a very short, ecstatic rendition of the classic. No one covers Hendrix like MMW. The chords slowed to something on a geologic time scale and a very pretty tune developed. It was ethereal and made a nice complement to the previous numbers.
The final tune was a short southern groove that quickly gave way to a Swamp Road type jam. John and Billy stood up, playing their squirrelly little plastic instruments while Chris hobbled around with his acoustic bass. The trio made its way up the stairs, playing all the while until they made to their signing table on the second floor. I quickly disappeared into the city streets, but most people seemed to be hanging around, undoubtedly to find out how the Fresh Prince would get out of his latest hilarious predicament.