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Album Review: Medeski, Martin & Wood – Free Magic

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In their 20 plus years as a trio, Medeski, Martin & Wood have this magical presence in their dizzy musical explorations, melding free-form jazz, experimental “unsounds,” funk and ample improvisation — all the while, never once foraying into trickery or ulterior illusory motives to dazzle their listeners. Genres cease to apply with the improvisational wonders John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, resulting in an undeniably fresh approach to not only jazz, but to our conception of sound as a whole.

The trio’s latest release, Free Magic, a documentation of their exemplary live performances, was recorded during the trio’s acoustic tour in 2007. The hour-long album contains just five tracks, each bending the confines of sound versus volume. Opener “Doppler”, features the dual improvisation of Chris Wood on the upright bass, Billy Martin on the balakon (similar to a xylophone), while John Medeski charges on a tinny toy piano, central to the spooky “Free Majic”.

MMW also excel in tightening and releasing the string of tension. The funkadelic “Where’s Sly” resounds with pure movement, featuring sultry jazz pianos carried by a steady series of drum riffs. The aptly entitled “Blues” swells between moments of frenzy and calm, uncannily emulating the progression of emotions that tragedy seems to bring, from confusion to acceptance. For a jazz trio –or any kind of trio for that matter– to possess the ability to convey emotion so adeptly and accurate — that’s astounding.

Sure, the Charlie Parker licks and the Love Supreme rhythms are somewhere deeply embedded in the trio’s subconscious. Yet the three rip the pages out of the jazz rulebook completely, combining more of the experimental tendencies of peers Exploding Star Orchestra and the funk-bop hooks of Sly and the Family Stone. Despite the inability to capture their sound accurately in words, one thing is certain: The trio’s unwavering ability to envelop the listener into an alien world of avant-garde sounds, melodic, unsettling and thought-provoking all the same, proves that genius and madness are most definitely intertwined.

Essential Tracks: “Blues,” “Where’s Sly”

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