The third studio meeting in nearly 17 years between Medeski, Martin & Wood and guitarist John Scofield has no easy referent to their earlier recordings -- purposely. This quartet sounds like a real band on Juice, which is a mixed blessing. The positive aspect is that this longtime collaboration creates near instinctive communication. This is a much more inside date, though the rhythmic interplay between bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin is outstanding throughout. There are four covers from the 1960s scattered among the various originals; some work better than others. One is "Sham Time," an Eddie Harris tune. The obvious inspiration, though, is Willie Bobo's version from the 1968 album A New Dimension. This quartet does it justice with spark, crackle, groove, and grease. The driving organ vamp on Scofield's "New London" offers a British rave-up wedded to Brazilian funk and Latin boogaloo. The solos by the guitarist and John Medeski are lyrical, tight, and flow right out of one another. Martin's "Louis the Shoplifter" is populated with killer interlocking salsa grooves between him and Medeski (who evokes Eddie Palmieri's experimetnal side in his playing) amid knotty changes. Wood's bassline develops along the drummer's pumping, double-time snare and syncopated breaks. Scofield's solo roils with serpentine post-bop shards. "Juicy Lucy," a group composition, finds Scofield taking "Louie Louie" as inspiration. Medeski builds on it with excellent montunos, contrasting mid-'60s Latin R&B with early rock & roll. The fingerpopping exchanges between Wood, Martin, and guest conguero Pedrito Martinez are nasty and tight. Wood's "Helium" is the strangest, perhaps most compelling thing here, comprised of angular harmonies, arpeggiated, nearly fusion-esque statements from guitarist and pianist, and a whomping bassline. Martin's forro-esque pulse -- that borders on the martial -- locks it down. The cultural baggage associated with the Doors' "Light My Fire" is too great for even these musicians to transcend, and with a straight rock chart, it feels tossed off. Conversely, the reading of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," at nearly 11 minutes, contains an imaginative arrangement that makes the listener almost forget the original. Martin's and Wood's slow, rocksteady reggae groove is downright steamy. Scofield works a spooky blues vamp that unwinds slowly into fragmented solos while Medeski gets swampy on the organ, stating the melody tersely with one hand, and improvising with the other. Finally, engineer Danny Bloom adds a remix with loads of reverb and echo, making it a tripped-out dubwise jam. The guitarist's funky "Stovetop" is an excellent modernist revisioning of post-tropicalia samba jazz with all members finding plenty of room to move inside it, Martinez's congas add fand heat. While Juice is mostly engaging and satisfying, the pervasive "let's just see what happens" approach MSMW took here also has a downside: it delivers a self-contented vibe rather than one of discovery that their previous records revealed in spades.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek