Medeski, Martin & Wood

Radiolarians III

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All three volumes of Medeski, Martin & Wood's Radiolarians series were reportedly to be recorded and released in 2008. Only the first volume appeared, but it provided a solid clue to both the formula and the wild adventurousness that the series would embody. Radiolarians III is the final volume in the series. What inspired it was a formula, pure and simple, a reversal of what is usually the case for a band to follow. Rather than write new material, then record it and tour, the trio reversed the process. They went out and toured incessantly, improvised and wrote new material on the road, gave it real form and focus, and then, finally, recorded it. This volume is as delightful as its predecessors, and offers inarguable proof that after 18 years, MM&W are still discovering new ways to stretch the jazz trio format, finding new music to integrate, spindle, warp, re-form, and refresh, without sacrificing it to endless synthetic edits and samples. In essence, they remain a live trio, and virtually everything they play comes out that way on record. This set was recorded in three days. The meld of jazz, vanguard classical music, gospel, rock, funk, New Orleans stride and second line, country, blues, modal music, Indian classical, and other world folk forms is simply staggering, and it is seamless -- even when the music gets the party rockin'. Check the second track, "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down." It commences with John Medeski's elliptical 20th century vanguard improv piano dissonance eventually entering into the musical terrain of James Booker before becoming a psychedelic, funky arrangement of "This Train," while Chris Wood's fuzzed-out bass plays the melody, and Billy Martin's drum skitters in syncopated breaks and march rhythms. "Undone" is a rock tune with breaks, rolling shuffles, and crescendos galore. Wood's bassline offers a lead into exploration that checks early New Order's "bass first" approach. But it is as rhythmically in the pocket as the MG's -- it even gets a bit Hendrixian in the middle section just for good measure, with Wood's use of a wah-wah pedal and the organ by Medeski sounding like something from Electric Ladyland instead of Steve Winwood. "Walk Back" is full-on funky B-3 trio groove with Medeski ripping it up. "Jean's Scene" feels a lot like Eddie Palmieri's more improvisational jazz thangs, but with the impeccably articulate Medeski being cleaner , lighter, and more on the soul tip à la Ramsey Lewis. While it may not be the most fingerpopping track on the set, "Kota," with gorgeous arco work by Wood -- who also apes the sound of various Asian and African stringed instruments with his bass -- begins as a speculative, hesitant mediation by Medeski in the upper register and eventually becomes an exotic, minor-key droning, tranced-out groove that doesn't let up even when he lets loose with some wild improvisation in the middle section. Radiolarians III is a fitting parting shot in an experiment that perhaps worked beyond its participants' expectations. The entire series should be purchased and spun repeatedly. There is so much to discover, it will still sound new in a decade or even two.

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