Saturday, July 14, 2007

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood (06/28/2007)

A far better example of integrating a guitarist into a pre-existing trio is the addition of John Scofield into Medeski Martin & Wood. The quartet’s relationship has vastly grown over the years. 1998’s A Go Go saw MMW functioning as the Booker T. & MGs to Scofield’s dominant frontman to becoming a group of four equal partners with a symbiotic relationship as documented on 2006’s Out Louder. To my ears, Scofield has rarely sounded more inspired; his usual bag of licks and tricks of string raking and muted strumming were noticeably absent – he was truly engaged and imaginative. The phrasing between Sco & Medeski tight on the unison passages were exceedingly tight.

The trio of MMW themselves have matured a great deal since I last saw them – Chris Wood’s stage presence has become more active and brighter, replete with impromptu James Brown footwork. Billy Martin is still the groove machine he always was, with an ear for the right percussive touch at the right moment. Instead of constantly subverting the groove as in years past, the balance was far better – tunes were separated by interludes of brilliant open improv and colour. It was a treat to hear Scofield in this freer setting, rarely documented in the past.

Last time I saw Sco, with the Uberjam band, he was in the teething stage of incorporating additional pedals and effects in his rig. He has since learned the tricks of his pedals and how to use them effectively. Most tunes in the set were pulled from Out Louder. Late in the set, though, Scofield started the signature strumming pattern of “Chank,” from A Go Go. This was a far dirtier and funkier version, with everybody digging in for a more aggressive rhythmic feel. Sco kicked in an envelope filter, further colouring his sound, and Medeski’s Hammond drawbar manipulations are unparalleled. His new combination of Hammond and a small Wurlitzer organ were great complimentary sounds. The tune ended with a series of killer punches. For a respite from the hardcore jam, the quartet indulged in their cover of the John Lennon tune “Julia.” Medeski showed his understated gospel side, reminiscent of his early century work with The Word and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I’ve rarely heard Scofield play ballads and his melodic phrasing was truly gorgeous. The encore was a darkly funky version of “Hottentot,” from A Go Go, delivered in a manner similar to Miles Davis’ funkier ’70s moments or even those of P-Funk keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell.

(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)

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