Medeski, Martin and Wood

Wednesday, Nov. 10; Mississippi Nights

Nov 3, 1999 at 4:00 am
Genre is a funny thing. It attempts to wrap a finite set of values around something invisible, to place rules of behavior on the anarchic, to define and constrain a weak-minded musician by offering a simple paint-by-numbers canvas on which to create. Genre's a crutch, and it's best left alone in the creation of music.

No American trio making music right now is more blind to genre than John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, collectively known by their last names. You could call them a jazz band because they record for Blue Note records. You could call them a jam band because they're in tune with a groove and a bunch of Deadheads do the jellyfish dance to their music. You could call them an instrumental hip-hop band because they've got that wicked staccato Clyde Stubblefield stutter beat and they tour with turntablist DJ Logic. You could call them a funk band because they're the funkiest band on the planet these days, recalling the vibe of '70s funk geniuses the Meters in their rhythms and dynamics.

But just call it great American music and you'll pretty much nail it. Since they first started releasing records in the early '90s, these New Yorkers (though their legendary studio, the Shack, is in Hawaii) have chased The Groove, tackled it, wrestled with it and come out victorious. They understand that uncovering a magnetic groove is a magical thing, and that, once discovered, said groove can be harnessed for optimal ass-shaking bliss. But they also understand that the groove is malleable, open to (tasteful, thoughtful -- not wank-off stumbling) improvisation and adaptation. On their recent Combustication (Blue Note), MMW have created another genre-blind ode to joy, one that sounds like a convergence of genres without seeming forced or contrived. DJ Logic scratches throughout as the band creates cascading grooves, subtle examinations and wholly vital American music. The group has also recently released a remix EP of music from the album featuring examinations by Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, Dan the Automator of Handsome Boy Modeling School, Guru of Gang Starr, DJ Logic and Bill Laswell.

MMW's music works particularly well in the remix arena because of said malleability, and Combustication Remixes expands the band's reach even further. Fans speak glowingly of their shows, and this date should be phenomenal (if only as an opportunity to view the fragmented communities of jazz, hippie, hip-hop and funk in the same venue on the same night). Run, don't walk.