The first officially released live album by Medeski, Martin & Wood, as well as their first acoustic recording since their debut, Tonic captures the best of several 1999 performances at the small New York City club of the same name. The group's playing is a nice mix of outside, bop, and funky grooves, but the difference here is that Medeski is unable to rely on the electric organ to produce effects. That often means his lines are busier and more staccato than usual, and, especially on "Invocation" and "Thaw," he takes spirited flights into the avant-garde with chaotic yet controlled flurries of notes. The group's rhythmic interplay, too, becomes more important in this context, with the grooves shifting around often enough to give the musicians more to react to. The eight-song program is equally divided between originals and covers with the latter category including hard bop material by Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, and Bud Powell, as well as a gentle, album-closing rendition of the rock standard "Hey Joe." Although Tonic is markedly different from the jazz-funk-rock with which MMW made their name, it's a rewarding excursion and one of their most purely jazz-oriented works.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey