Medeski Martin + Wood
The House of Blues, Orlando, FL • November 28, 2001
John Medeski is a man with bodily schizophrenia. Not only do his hands present separate personality from the rest of his body, but they present a distinct character from each other. What’s more, within each hand also struggle more personalities, edging to come out. The left hand alternates between twinkling on the keys like a spider wrapping a freshly-caught wasp, and flopping like a toddler denied a next cookie. On the right hand, we find the odd fingers whispering egg whites into meringue while the even ones crack walnuts on their knuckles. These hands are children, lost in a playground of keyboards, running from one to another. John Medeski is surrounded, organs, stacked up in places, a piano back there, and other keyed instruments heard but otherwise unseen.
Chris Wood has a homing instinct unmatched. Imagine a swallow that crosses vast bodied of water, flying thousands of miles to not only return to the same Italian plaza, but crap on the head of a particular statue first thing. This is our bass player, wandering far afield but always returning unerringly to the One. He plays a variety of instruments, fretted, fretless, in ways that are better than unfettered. He whips out an early McCartney fiddle piccolo for a lead. He leans over his upright to reach the high notes, like a gangly teenager hoping to get a grope. Chris Wood stands in the center, a bit back. He’s the fulcrum, the axis in this contraption.
IllyB Martin connected to an oscilloscope: a square wave. Perfectly symmetrical and evenly spaced. Look closer and you’ll find a fractal division to this metronome. Our drummer can time even his worst mistakes to infinite precision. Effortlessly duplicating the quantum cascade of a bag of marbles spilled down a flight of stairs, our beatkeeper shaves time into snowflakes, sending a whirling lick of syncopation across the stage. IllyB Martin can pick up a tambourine and reproduce a Brazilian batucada. With a talking drum under his arm, he modulates through a variety of languages.
The trio played two sets to a fairly crowded House of Blues. It’s clear that while Medeski Martin and Wood share an innate sense of each other, they are content to establish eccentric musical orbits, oscillating between full-on grooves and abstract skeins of instrumental prowess. Back and forth they moved, coming together to blast out two Hendrix covers in the second set (“Fire” and “Crosstown Traffic”) but wandering across all manner of spindly territory in between. Curt nods and eye contact were all that was needed to communicate, to cede a lead or bring it all back together. This level of musical competency — not just the ability to play, but the near-psychic familiarity with the others’ thoughts and intentions — is something that’s rare to witness.