By Roy Kasten
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While many groups on the jam-band scene don't exactly fit into the buffed-and-polished presentation common to the era of music-on-video, Medeski, Martin & Wood may be the most unlikely rock stars of them all. Without need for rock staples such as vocals and guitars, John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood have carved out a nice little niche for themselves as a hard-grooving organ trio reinvented for the 21st century.
MMW started in 1991 as a more-or-less conventional acoustic-jazz group but quickly embraced electric instruments when decent pianos proved hard to find on the road.
With Medeski playing the Hammond B3 organ, the clavinet, the Wurlitzer electric piano and similar vintage keyboards, the band gradually evolved its own distinctive funk-jazz style of original composition while also offering idiosyncratic takes on material from composers ranging from John Coltrane to Bob Marley. MMW's breakthrough to rock audiences came when the band landed a spot on the HORDE Tour in 1996, putting them in front of hundreds of thousands of music fans with a taste for extended jamming.
MMW's extended, slow-simmering vamps and go-for-it improvisatory spirit quickly endeared the group to listeners weaned on the Dead and Phish, and the band's collective vibe seems to resonate with jam-band fans, too. As individual musicians, all three certainly are highly capable players, but, fittingly, it is as a group that Medeski, Martin & Wood create a distinctive chemistry that is more than the sum of its ingredients.