In the summer of 1998, Tonic opened on New York's Lower East Side. As famed avant-garde curmudgeon John Zorn elucidates in the liner notes, it quickly became a favorite hangout -- musical and social -- for Manhattan's thriving downtown music scene after many voiced dissatisfaction with Michael Dorf's struggling Knitting Factory. On July fourth of that year, Medeski, Martin & Wood turned in their first appearance at the new club. Comprised of three veterans of the downtown scene -- organist John Medeski, drummer/percussionist Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood -- the performance was both an arrival and a homecoming. On Electric Tonic, which captures that gig, it is immediately apparent how comfortable the three are in the small club. The ten tracks on the disc are entirely improvised. Unlike the band's earlier, self-released all-improv disc (Farmers Reserve), and even their other live album (Tonic, recorded the following spring in the same room), Electric Tonic remains almost entirely consonant. The music captures the band in transition from the groove monsters who won legions of dance-crazed followers with the thick organ funk of Shack-man to the consummately dissonant freak-out artists who would soon sculpt the noisy masterpieces Combustication and The Dropper with Scotty Hard. Notably absent is DJ Logic, who was appearing regularly with the band during this period. Instead, listeners get a fine portrait of a band beginning to spread their tentacles. No doubt the comfort of having Tonic as a new playspace contributed mightily to that evolution.
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