By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Countless jam bands owe their careers to Medeski, Martin & Wood, the avant-jazz trio that made it cool to groove again with 1996's Shack Man, a Hammond-hammered Phish-lot mainstay that opened the door for instrumental improv groups like Soulive and Particle.
In the years since, the threesome has plugged up other holes with a free-jazz edge on The Dropper (and drummer Billy Martin's wild solo work) and the hip-hop-influenced bop on Combustication. But 2002's Uninvisible returned the band to its funky roots, much to the pleasure of dance fans sick of watching John Medeski's loose freakouts and much to the disappointment of jazz snobs hoping that the increasingly popular band would be opening more doors for new fans.
Live, there's always room for MMW's wilder side, whether it's in all-acoustic jazz sets, unusual covers (the trio absolutely destroys Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic") or a percussive outburst from Martin, long the band's ace in the hole. When they fall into a groove, though, it's time to watch out; their success owes as much to their experimentation as it does to finding a pocket and running with it.