Medeski, Martin & Wood / Nels Cline

Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2

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Medeski, Martin & Wood have always played well with others. They did a string of great records in collaboration with John Scofield, and many of their albums have had invited guests; DJ Logic was practically an adjunct member for a while, and they even play on an Iggy Pop album (not exactly Iggy's finest moment, but that's another matter). Nels Cline also plays very well with others. Collaboration and improvisation were his stock in trade since long before he picked up the Wilco gig, and he continues to actively guest and collaborate while leading his own Nels Cline Singers. As good as the albums with Scofield were, Nels Cline is a very different type of player, and his affinity for effects really opens up the possibilities as far as pure sound. Cline can move from spacey ambience to raging leads to swirls of electronic-sounding madness and beyond. Pairing them seems like a great match on paper but it's even better recorded live in a studio with a small invited audience. Perhaps the most amazing thing is just how well Cline fits in with MMW's M.O. They've got a unique group dynamic in that there isn't a leader. They intuitively know when to step forward and when to sit back, each one pushing the dynamic or supporting as needed. Cline's addition is almost beyond seamless. It's as if the music wasn't created by four master musicians or two great bands, but of a single mind. The music is completely improvised but there are certainly times when one wouldn't think so. The longer tunes reveal best how the group operates as each player takes turns introducing ideas, then seeing what develops. Most tracks are more like a journey than a song. Do they hit a few great grooves? Without a doubt. Is the whole album a groovy, danceable jam session? Not by a long shot. These guys are sonic explorers and over the course of the session they go just about everywhere: electronic ambient, soul jazz, rock freakouts, '50s sci-fi, mysterious exotica, and even a little taste of New Orleans. It's not for everyone, but fans of either band should be thrilled, as should anyone interested in well-done experimental music without boundaries.

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