Medeski Martin & Wood have announced the release of Free Magic due September 25 on the band’s label Indirecto Records. For its latest effort, MMW dip into their archives to present a collection of recordings documenting their first-ever acoustic tour in 2007. The set, stretching out over five expansive tracks, captures the three intrepid improvisers—keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin—exploring the telepathic hookup and deep groove sensibility that has defined MMW since its inception in 1991.
“There’s a rhythmic and sonic connection that we have,” says Martin of his MMW colleagues. “Listening is the most important thing for us. We’re having a conversation when we’re playing. The dynamic range is much greater in the acoustic setting. When we play electric, everything is turned up to 11 and it’s screaming. But with John on piano and Chris on upright, we can play with a much more nuanced touch. It’s a very different world, but I love it.”
Free Magic opens with “Doppler,” a song from MMW’s previous album 20 that was issued last year in celebration of the revered trio’s two decades spent as a groundbreaking force in experimental modern jazz. The tune’s droning, near-tribal introduction morphs into an earthy, undulating groove that recalls the vintage piano trios of Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann. Medeski’s “Blues for Another Day” follows with a burst of jagged dissonance that has him channeling his inner Cecil Taylor. From that tumultuous free jazz intro, the performance settles into a slow, bluesy meditation in which the pianist digs deep, testifying with gospel-tinged intensity. Up next is the epic title track that swirls amid a zen-like collective improv by the three kindred spirits on tuned metal percussion, prepared upright piano and bowed harmonics on upright bass before segueing to Medeski’s Chopin-influenced“Ballade in C Minor.” The fourth track selected for inclusion takes things back almost 20 years with an acoustic version of “Where’s Sly” from MMW’s 1993 album It’s a Jungle in Here. Over the course of 16-minutes, the three musicians take great liberties with the melody and extrapolate freely in typically daring MMW fashion. The closing performance on Free Magic is a savvy piano trio medley of Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square” and Sun Ra’s anthemic “Angel Race,” which work together perfectly. Wood summons up the spirit of his hero Mingus with his forceful and resonant bass solo on the “Nostalgia” half of this potent medley.
“This stuff brings it back to when we used to hang out in this rented shack in Hawaii and make music together,” says Martin of the music on Free Magic. “It was really just a little plywood cabin in the jungle with a tin roof. John had a prepared piano there that sounded like a gamelan instrument and I had these funky drums that had mold growing on them, or I might play the side of the shack or play the railing going up the stairs and make it sound like a xylophone. And we’d get into a lot of different stuff there, just having musical conversations in this intimate setting.”
Over the course of 21 years, Medeski Martin & Wood have forged an indelible chemistry on the bandstand that’s fueled countless concerts around the world, as well as, 18 cutting-edge albums. This latest addition to their discography is no exception. To support the release of Free Magic, MMW follow in the footsteps of the 2007 shows that comprise its latest album by embarking on only their second ever acoustic tour. The 11-city run will stretch across the Northeast in October.
Upcoming MMW dates are:
10/03 – Fall River, MA – Narrows Center for the Arts
10/04 – Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre
10/05 – Boston, MA – Jordan Hall
10/06 – Albany, NY – Massry Center for the Arts
10/07 – Bethel Woods, NY – Bethel Woods
10/08 – Englewood, NJ – Bergen PAC
10/10 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
10/11 – Stroudsburg, PA – Sherman Theatre
10/12 – Huntington, NY – The Paramount
10/13 – Washington, DC – Kennedy Center
10/14 – Annapolis, MD – Rams Head Tavern
Free Magic track listing:
2. Blues For Another Day
3. Free Magic/Ballade In C Minor
4. Where’s Sly?
5. Nostalgia In Times Square/Angel Race