Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood : In Case the World Changes Its Mind

Medeski Martin & Wood is an American jazz trio that formed in 1991 and consists of John Medeski on keyboards and piano, Billy Martin on drums and percussion, and Chris Wood on double bass and bass guitar. The trio has found mainstream success with their impeccable musical chops and creatively crafted improvisations that draw on influences from a number of musical genres, ranging from rock and jazz to funk and hip hop,  frequently referred to as “avant-groove.” Their live performances are well-known for their deep exploration into the musical subject matter, and extended improvisations that emphasize arrhythmic, atonal dissonance resolved into a biting groove that seemingly materializes from thin air.

Despite the trio’s successful stints touring on the jam band scene, MMW nurture their relationship and creativity through side projects and group collaborations. One highly regarded project started in 1997 when MMW performed on jazz guitarist and composer John Scofield’s album, A Go Go.  The band again collaborated with Scofield in 2006 on Out Louder under the name Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, the first album released on MMW’s own record label, Indirecto Records. The latest collaborative project between MMW and Scofield, In Case the World Changes Its Mind, was recorded in 2006 while on tour as MSMW. This is a groove-laden jam session that roughly splits the 11 track, 115 minute set between their two studio albums. This release gives the quartet an opportunity to dust off and expand some of their signature tunes, while also allowing them to forge new ground though experimentation and improvisation.

The live double-album opens with a great version of “A Go Go” with a straight-forward, smooth groove, and while the material from A Go Go translates well to a live recording and offers a platform for some excellent improvisations, the songs culled from Out Loud are the meat of this live release. “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing” shows the creative power of MSMW  with frantic percussion that melts into the main theme reflecting Deep South blues before delving into musical bliss with Scofield and Medeski directing traffic.  “Cachasa,” infused with a hip-moving Latin rhythm, allows Martin and Wood to shine. The bass breakdown going into the main theme highlights Wood’s technical playing ability and is absolutely ridiculous.  The title track extends well beyond the studio version offering each member of the quartet a moment in the spotlight, and the first disc winds down with another improv-laden “Miles Behind,” which takes the listener well off the beat path of the studio cut.  In the vein of Miles Davis, this song digs up a little of the exploratory funk.

The centerpiece of this album is the gigantic “Walter Hanuman” on disc two. Extending for almost 20 minutes beyond the album version, this song takes the listener on an aural journey of changing themes and emotions.  Scofield intertwines his guitar improvisations on this number with deliberate, pre-composed precision, which is a testament to his foresight and ability to create new music. The rollercoaster ups and downs of “Walter Hanuman” are tempered by an eerily somber “Amazing Grace,” serving as a respite from the previous musical pursuit and offering a moment of reflection. This introspective period segues into “Southern Pacific,” which is a jazzy, road-friendly song, boasting the attention to detail that forms the common denominator on this album. This well-considered release ends with, “Hottentot,” an excellent tune from A Go Go that does well sending off this extensive double-album.

The ability to mine early material and recast it in a new sound has always been a signature of MMW.  They are renowned for creating new songs from extended improvisations that grow out of previously composed pieces. Despite being a polished composer, which offers a technical and structured profile to MSMW’s releases, John Scofield gravitates toward musicians who are able to break free from a formulaic approach to music.  As such, the relationship that MMW and Scofield have forged is one that fosters creativity and experimentation as the life-blood of new musical creations. Despite this being a live release of previously recorded material, and In Case the World Changes Its Mind attests to the many possibilities that arise when members of a band are willing to push the boundaries.

In Case the World Changes Its Mind is out now on Indirecto Records.