Medeski, Martin & Wood had already created a series of fine albums and a fervent following before they were signed to Blue Note, one of the most prestigious labels in jazz history. But rather than taking it easy after having made it in the jazz world, MM&W actually pushed the envelope even further during the Blue Note years, continually challenging their listeners as well as themselves. Note Bleu: The Best of the Blue Note Years: 1998-2005 compiles tracks from all five Blue Note albums, and does an excellent job of summarizing their label tenure. The Tonic recording was something of an anomaly. Self-produced and entirely acoustic, it's represented by only one track: a beautiful, slow interpretation of "Hey Joe." As nice as it is, it just doesn't fit with the rest of the material and breaks the flow just a bit. As for the rest of the album, fans may quibble about this omission or that, but the track selection is excellent and they've sequenced it well, wisely throwing chronology out the window. One of the things that becomes apparent, and something that probably contributes to their consistently fresh approach, is the role collaboration has always played. It goes beyond invited musicians and regular contributors like Marc Ribot and the unofficial fourth member of the band, DJ Logic, whose sound was key to Combustication. Scotty Hard's production was a major factor on both The Dropper and Uninvisible, as was John King's on End of the World Party (Just in Case); careful listening reveals all kinds of interesting sonic tricks and details. Of course, at the center of it all are the three incredibly talented players who make up the band. Not only have they turned in a body of work that's sure to stand the test of time, but they've helped broaden the concept of what jazz is and can be, and opened that world up to a whole group of people who may have never thought they'd be interested in jazz. Note Bleu is an excellent overview of their Blue Note years, and would be the perfect starting place for those who haven't yet entered the world of Medeski, Martin & Wood.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard