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Published: 2011/06/17
by Brian Weidy

Medeski Martin and Wood, Central Park Summerstage, New York, NY – 6/11

While the venue may have been cold, and the skies unrelenting, neither of those factors stopped the fans of the indefinable jazzy trio Medeski Martin & Wood, celebrating their 20th anniversary as a group, from coming out in droves to Central Park’s Summerstage on a Saturday evening. The trio is made up of John Medeski playing virtually anything with keys, switching seamlessly from Clavinet to B-3 Organ, and even to his Grand Piano at certain points, Chris Wood on Bass, both Electric and Stand-up, and Billy Martin, the drummer and percussionist. While only having three members, the band is able to bring together a unique mix of jazz, funk and countless other influences into their playing and create a big sound out of this tight trio.

The evening of music began with a set by AlasNoAxis, an avant-jazz group which played a near continuous set which lasted about forty minutes, with only a short respite to thank the crowd. The next opening band was the The King Froopy All-Stars; a 12-piece ensemble featuring seven horns played a well-received half-hour set.

After a twenty minute break, just long enough for the skies to open up, the band began with “Big Time,” an original of the band’s 2000 album Dropper featured fuzz drenched organ work by John Medeski, who accented chords with his percussive use of both his left and right hands throughout the song, as well as throughout evening. While their songs may have titles and discernable melodies at the beginning, the songs quickly drift into jams led by Medeski, and Chris Wood, who uses his Bass to either hold down the bottom end or use it as a lead instrument in jams.

After a run through “Amish Pintxos” the band led into “Junkyard,” featuring Medeski playing a handheld keyboard which acted as something of a “talk-box” providing a hard edged, distorted sound and an exquisitely tasteful drum solo from Billy Martin, the band led into a pair of newly recorded songs, capped off by “Down on Me” an American Traditional song featured Medeski on the Grand Piano. The song features feathery Piano work, mixed in with a steady drum beat, and a strong bass line.

Those two newly recorded songs have been released as downloads through the band’s website. These two songs are a part of a group of 20 songs being released in celebration of the trio’s 20th anniversary. The band is releasing two songs a month throughout the course of the year.

Their set ended with “Partido Alto” off of Dropper and “Night Marchers” off of Shack-man, the trio’s 1996 album, with funky work by Medeski once again and a huge jam concluding their set before their encore saw them play the song that came out of their first ever jam as a band “Chubb Sub” a fan favorite which capped off their hour and fifteen minute set in the rain.

While it may have been raining and cold, and their set may have been a bit short, the funky-jazzy-trio of Medeski Martin and Wood never cease to amaze, and will be back to New York City for a residency at the Whitney Museum every Friday during the month of August and a show celebrating Halloween at Terminal 5 with Antibalas.

This show was presented by the Blue Note Jazz Festival, which is taking place throughout the month of June at a dozen different venues.

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