Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 10: Medeski, Martin, and Wood, "Combustication"

Artist: Medeski, Martin, and Wood
Album: Combustication
Year: 1998
Label: Blue Note

When it comes to unlikely superstars in modern jazz, the trio of Medeski, Martin, and Wood are at the top of the list. Fusing together a myriad of different styles and sounds, many critics feel that they are more a "jam band" as opposed to a jazz trio. With strong foundations in the jazz style and incredible improvisations, MMW have become one of the most respected groups on the planet, regardless of genre. Their 1998 release, Combusication, presents everything that is great about these musical innovators and the album is an essential part of the modern jazz movement.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood are easily one of the most unique jazz-fusion groups you'll find. Taking heavy doses of funk and fusing it with jazz, hip hop, be bop, and even beat poetry, their albums are eclectic, and at the same time, beautifully coherent. While the "cool" factor that defines jazz is as present as on any other jazz recording, the overall mood on Combustication is a great distance from what is traditionally thought to be "jazz." Instead of the more "intellectual" feel that a majority of jazz musicians strive for, MMW attempts to make their jazz more "organic" and, perhaps, a bit more accessible to the "average listener." However, anyone questioning the "street cred" of this trio need look no further than the record label they record for; Blue Note.

The keyboard work of John Medeski drives a majority of the songs on Combustication. Taking obvious influence from Herbie Hancock, his keyboard playing is a brilliant combination of soul, funk, and blues, set into a traditional jazz sequences. Whether he is ripping amazing note sequences or sustaining chords, Medeski keeps and controls the groove. The rhythmic duo of Billy Martin and Chris Wood are equally as talented as Medeski, as they push the tempo and flow around as they see fit. The pair are hardly a backup band to Medeski as the three move along and around one another in amazing fashion on each song. Taking the improvisational nature of jazz and meandering through stunning jams are a signature of the group.

The addition of DJ Logic on Combustication sets the record far aside from anything ever done before or since under the name of "jazz." The samples and scratching from DJ Logic throughout the album give it a very modern, fresh feel and, though in theory, this clash of styles should be a disaster, the results are pure bliss. Using standard hip-hop beat mixing and scratching, and even sampling MMW's own sound at times, the addition of DJ Logic to the outfit remains one of the most impressive combinations in recorded history. Providing another change of pace on Combustication, acclaimed author and poet Steve Cannon also makes an appearance, providing a stunning spoken word recalling the early days of jazz on the track, "Whatever Happened To Gus?"

Medeski, Martin, and Wood as a group have been single-handedly attempting to turn on a new generation to the jazz style. Through innovation and undeniable talent, the group has found a fervent fan base across a wide spread age range. From New Orleans Jazzfest to Bonnaroo and everything in between, MMW have established themselves as one of the premier music outfits in the world. Their 1998 release, Combustication is both traditional and revolutionary simultaneously and should be in regular rotation in every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Just Like I Pictured It," "Whatever Happened To Gus?" and "No Ke Ano Ahiahi"

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