22 November 2008

Review: Radiolarians I

Medeski Martin & Wood
Radiolarians 1

Medeski Martin & Wood have been together for a long time - almost twenty years - so you can forgive them from shaking up their routine to keep things fresh and keep themselves interested. Whether that means bringing John Scofield into the fold for an album and tour, or releasing various side projects, these forays outside of the standard (if you could use that word to describe anything they do) MMW ouvre allow the trio to both pursue outside outlets of creativity and expand the repertoire that each member brings to the group.

This is the same process out of which sprang Radiolarians 1, the latest offering from the group. Foregoing their standard recording technique (relentless studio jamming edited into a group of tracks), the trio spent the first part of this year composing rough sketches of some new tunes, then let the compositions grow organically on tour before returning to the studio to record the newly-fleshed out tunes. Radiolarians 1 is intended as the first in a three-part series (you can imagine what the next two albums will be called). They named the album after a marine organism of the same name. According to the band's website, radiolaria "grow their intricately beautiful patterned skeleton around their soft core in defiance of normal biological process, similarly to Medeski Martin and Woods latest creative cycle."

The results of this process are quite satisfying. Like many other works from the trio, the tracks on Radiolarians 1 represent not only individual parts of a coherent whole but also captivating standalone pieces of music. The trio covers wide territory in each of the tracks, from the spacy New Orleans funk of "Free Go Lily" to the Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis back beat of "Cloud Wars." The process of slowly developing the individual songs in this album plays up some under-appreciated traits of the group. Medeski reminds us on "Free Go Lily" of how percussive his acoustic piano-playing is, lending extra rhythmic force on the tune – his percussiveness is easy to forget since he sticks to electric instruments so often. Wood is paradoxically light on his electric bass on the decidedly-heavy tune, "Reliquary." Martin displays his impish wit on "Sweet Pea Dreams."

This new recording process has served Medeski Martin & Wood well, allowing the three much time to dig in, explore, and develop their parts before putting them to record. The result is an exhilarating, fresh effort for the veteran trio, proving that theire well still produces after so many years together.

Track Listing: First Light; Cloud Wars; Muchas Gracias; Professor Nohair; Reliquary; Free Go Lily; Rolling Son; Sweet Pea Dreams; God Fire; Hidden Moon
Personnel: John Medeski, keyboards; Chris Wood, bass; Billy Martin, drums


DCS said...

This is perhaps their best works since Friday Afternoon in the Universe IMHO.


David said...

I'm more partial to Tonic and The Dropper myself, but I agree, Radiolarians 1 is solid.