4.5/5 — The summer of 1991 saw the formation of Medeski Martin and Wood, one of the most creative forces in jazz today. Playing songs to make people bump and move, they fit in better as a “jam band” than any other members of New York’s stuffy, competitive jazz scene. Making everything up as they go, John Medeski (keyboards), Billy Martin (drums and percussion) and Chris Wood (bass) carved a niche after releasing 1992’s “Notes From the Underground,” which was recorded live, improvised and acoustic.
Twelve years after their first album and four days before the anniversary of Sept. 11, Medeski Martin and Wood released their latest irreverent adventure-in-sound, “End of the World Party (Just In Case).”
Jazz is a word that turns a lot of everyday listeners off but “End of the World” seems to nod to popular blaxploitation kings Sly Stone and Quincy Jones more than free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.
On the steady, downbeat track “Curtis,” a left-out-too-long, funky soup is created out of Medeski’s Wurlitzer electric piano. The track opens and rides out with the signature pulsing timbre of Martin’s drumming and percussion.
Marc Ribot, from fellow NYC underground band Los Cubanos Postizos, joins MMW to record on tracks like “Reflector,” an anthem that breaks down a vocal sample from “Zaire: Misiques urbaines a Kinshasa,” a collection of urban music from Kinshasa. Ribot’s blues-inspired guitar is played down with twang and reverb to spare. It is on this track that MMW’s obscure and wide-ranging musical influences are brilliantly obvious.
Steven Bernstein, one half of Sex Mob, and Briggan Krauss contribute to “Sasa.” It’s as sexy a track as any and Bernstein (slide trumpet) and Krauss (saxophone) showcase their masterful musicianship the best way they can. Saxophone and slide trumpet blast through the track’s chorus, while sleek harmonies and questioning wails pervade.
The title track features ghostly-yet-campy vocal samples, while backing keyboard parts contrast starkly with a groovy Hammond B-3 organ riff. It’s evident the latter could only be Medeski versus Medeski fare. Tongues-in-cheek, MMW play “End of the World Party” like they mean it – sort of.
The albums’ most subtle influence might be the steady hand of producer John King, best known for his work with the Dust Brothers, Beck and the Beastie Boys. King’s influences are most apparent on tracks like “New Planet” and the latter half of “Midnight Poppies/Crooked Birds,” where he playfully loops Martin’s drums and percussion.
“End of the World” fits tighter together and seems more relaxed than 2002’s aggressive “Uninvisible,” and fans used to MMW’s steady changes will approve. “End of the World” contains 12 powerful tracks that push the trio a little farther forward onto the funky platform of avant-garde modern jazz.