MEDESKI, MARTIN, & WOOD with Tarantula at Kool Haus, December 4. Tickets: $30. Attendance: 1,550. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I remember spinning Ornette Coleman's The Shape Of Jazz To Come in a lame attempt to impress a girl with my sophisticated tastes. Her response: "It sounds like they're warming up and they can't tune their instruments." I was deflated, but being only 17, I got over it pretty quickly. Anyhow, she had a point. With no detectable melody, repeated chorus or 4/4 beat, free jazz can be a bit much for those weaned on rock.
Albums like Miles Davis's classic fusion set Bitches Brew and Coltrane's A Love Supreme are pretty much starting points for rockers wanting to branch out.
Likewise, many hardcore rock lovers' sole jazz record comes from Medeski, Martin and Wood . Purists may balk, but these three have done way more for jazz in the last 10 years than anyone else (sorry, Wynton), and they aren't even a real jazz band. Jam band, fusionists, funk-jazz improvisers - whatever you wanna call them is OK by these New York hipsters and their fans. Just don't Bogart that joint and everyone will be happy.
Happy: that's the best way to describe the vibe at the Kool Haus last Saturday, even while openers Tarantula worked their way through a set that might have been the soundtrack to a David Lynch slasher flick. Cello fought to be heard over drums, and a super-amped violin threatened to shatter glass, but even if our own Godspeed You Black Emperor! trump them, the crowd clapped loudly after each collage, appreciative of their intense effort.
After a too long intermission (anything longer than 15 minutes when a smoking ban is in effect is too long), the law firm of Medeski, Martin and Wood took the stage and locked into a hypnotic beat that put everyone into a trance.
Those who came over from the Dead and Phish camps did that dance that looks like someone drowning in slow motion, while those in loafers nodded their heads back and forth in unison. Who says white people have no rhythm?
With his swirling organ lines creating organic and, conversely, otherworldly atmospheric fills, John Medeski is clearly the leader of the trio. However, the soul of the group can be found in the person of bassist Chris Wood . Laying down deep, dub-like notes, he keeps MMW grounded and gives them that funk groove that has made them so accessible. Like the Gang of Four without Dave Allen or PIL without John Wordle (aka Jah Wobble), MMW would sound mundane and thin without Wood in the mix.