Even though it might be hard to casually browse past the names of Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Bill Frisell and Miles Davis dropped onto the proverbial pile, there’s no way you could miss the trio situated squarely on top, like a glistening cherry nestled in whipped cream surrounded by nuts: Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Sure, it’s been more than a decade since the quartet’s last collaborative effort. That first go-round birthed one hell of a monumental LP—Scofield’s A Go-Go. We’re talking about 10 seamless tracks so perfect in all their post-bop funky-grooves and free-jazz attitudes that they’ve worked themselves into becoming a fixture in the collection of even the laziest of jazz aficionados. It’s also that album that perhaps embodies Scofield’s personal philosophy best, to strive always to take the music to new places. It’s something he learned while working for Davis in the early ’80s, and he continues to follow it today.
That is precisely why he shuffled MMW back up to the top of the massive heap.
“A Go-Go was John’s record for Verve,” Wood says. “It was as simple as him just calling us up, wanting us to be the band. That time, he had all the music, but he had us in mind to record it with him. So, when we got in the studio we arranged it together and just recorded it. It was easy, fast and fun. That’s how a lot of jazz records are made. You just go in a knock it out, the first take on a lot of the stuff.”
For the new album Out Louder, the plan was for a far more four-way collaborative effort. From the band moniker of MSMW all the way down to the post-production plans to actually tour together, the quartet is hell-bent on doing things in a manner that keeps the joint efforts lit and inventive.
“That was definitely one of the things that was smart about making this record,” Wood explains. “We got to set up in the same room, improvise and make music together without talking about anything. Some of the stuff we kind of edited it together and presented it as is. Some of the stuff turned into compositions that we then did a little overdubbing on. So, we recorded the tunes in a lot of different ways, no restrictions, whatever seemed to work.”
Although a good majority of it was indeed improvised, a few semi-set tunes were brought into the basement and then worked over through the filter of MSMW stylings. For example John Lennon’s “Julia” ends up being a slow gospel-influenced tune turned up on its edge by the oily hymnlike guitar rifts of Scofield. Similar reverent undermining of a tune occurs on “Legalize It,” a track incorporating so much improvisational circling around the original melody line that the once-recognizable reggae theme nearly goes up in smoke.
“It was always just so easy to play with him because he has a lot of those same rhythmic and jazz influences as we do,” Wood says. “He is such a great player and improviser that he makes it so easy to take the music to places where it’s never been.”
So, really, it is simple, as long as MSMW still feels there are new places to take the music—comfortable knowing that they’re still pushing, pulling, stretching and conceiving fresh noise and inventive sounds, content with having fun touring with friends and recording in Shacklyn, their Brooklyn basement studio—things will keep on keepin’ on. And who knows, really? If you’re lucky, another decade will pass more quickly than you’ll think possible think—in the blink of an eye—and the world may be blessed with yet another seminal record from what would inevitably be a more mature, more experienced MSMW quartet.
You’ll just have to wait for Medeski, Martin & Wood to resurface again, back on top of the old Scofield name pile.
MEDESKI, SCOFIELD, MARTIN & WOOD Park City Jazz Festival, Deer Valley Resort, Sunday, Aug. 26, 5 p.m. ParkCityJazz.org