Medeski Martin & Wood + Nels Cline have announced the release of The Woodstock Sessions (Vol. 2) on April 22. The four musicians came together to record on August 27, 2013 at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, NY in front of an intimate gathering of 75 lucky ticket holders. The session was part of a newly launched series that brings established and emerging recording artists together with their fans in the recording studio. The experience is a performance/session hybrid that supports the artist to fan bond by sharing the process of record making. The end results are inimitable recordings that capture inspired, one-off performances.
“Michael Birnbaum from Applehead Studios and I had been talking about this for over two years. We’re all trying to figure out what to do in this crazy music business, how to keep things going and above water, how to keep the music real and keep the connection with the audience real,” explains John Medeski. “Applehead Studios is a great space. Beyond just being a recording facility it sounds so good live that we thought we could find a way to play for people here and get something special out of it.”
Birnbaum adds: “We feel that the presence of the audience in the room with the musicians creates an energetic accelerant to the experience and to the end product that we capture and reproduce. The idea is to honor the craftsmanship that happens on both sides of the glass and lets folks have a rare look into the sanctified space that is the recording studio.”
The initial collaboration between MMW and Nels Cline was a year earlier when they performed at The Blue Note for two sold out shows in New York City. They would later reconnect at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in western Massachusetts. The chemistry was immediate and ever since they’d been considering ways to record.
“When we talked to Nels about recording something, we felt live was the best way. And we started thinking again about this idea of an intimate concert/studio situation that would be a cool experience and fun for everyone. It seemed like the perfect thing to do,” says Medeski. “We wanted play together, record it, and not have to fix everything in the computer. Sometimes you go into the studio and start thinking too much. It changes everything. It might end up great, but it doesn’t have the same feeling as getting together to improvise and create in the moment for the moment. This is our moment with Nels!”
Together at Applehead Studios, the quartet jumped head first into nearly two hours of improvised music spread across two sets. They’d ricochet between ideas that run the gamut from avant noise to space funk, experimental jazz to electronic minimalism with nearly a million other musical impulses and currents spiraling from their dense web of sound. The recordings were later edited and mixed into nine separate tracks by the Applehead production/engineering team of Michael Birnbaum, Chris Bittner and Kevin Salem.
“There are a lot of different ways to make records. Too often, the process gets elongated, and I’ve made many records on recent years where no two musicians played in the same room at the same time. Michael and I sat down as producers and decided that we wanted to create a situation that would foster productivity and a modern organic approach to recording,” says Salem. “These are recording sessions, pure, simple and real. For the attendees, they get to see musicians in their creative habitat. The artists get the benefit of simplicity and urgency that comes with live recording. And as producers, we get to craft something really one-of-a-kind. Putting people in a room changes the dynamic, and that yields a tangible result that makes the sessions different from even standard live studio recording and certainly different from concert recordings.”
Heard in its entirety, The Woodstock Sessions (Vol. 2) presents some of the most imaginative playing ever documented in the vast discographies of either Medeski Martin & Wood or Nels Cline.
“MMW has no leader. When we play, there is an unspoken rule that requires each of us to sometimes lead and sometimes follow. As an outsider, it’s hard to join this kind of democracy without altering it,” concludes Chris Wood. “With Nels Cline it’s different. He instantly became a citizen of our twisted democracy and elevated it to a higher realm.”