WEB EXTRA: Jazz or jam band: An interview with Medeski, Martin and Wood

A Medeski Martin and Wood album appears in two categories when you search for them on Amazon.com. You might find them when you search for jazz CDs, or also when you search for jamband CDs. But when you ask John Medeski, the trio’s keyboardist, how he feels about the “jamband” scene, he’ll tell you that more or less, he thinks the name is plain dumb.

“Jazz is a cool name for music, so is R&B. Jamband is just a stupid name. Someone wasn’t very good with words,” Medeski said in an interview with The Hatchet.

Along with drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood, Medeski forms the trio that spans the spectrum of improvisational music and, yes, belongs to the allegedly poorly named genre. The group formed in the early 90s out of the downtown music scene in New York City. Their link was through Bob Moses, a drummer whom Medeski and Martin had played with separately.

Since their early days playing at the Knitting Factory and CBGB’s Gallery in lower Manhattan, the group has released six records on Blue Note, which have spanned from 1998’s spacey, turntable-backed Combustication to the acoustic live set from Tonic, a 2000 release. The group toured with Blues Traveler and Phish on the HORDE tour of the mid 90s, played the main stage at Bonnaroo music festival and even opened for the Dave Matthews Band.

The group’s most recent release, last year’s End of the World Party (Just in Case), proved to be another new musical excursion. Medeski explained the album’s title, “End of the World Party was a party we had in Hawaii a few years ago,” he said. “We pulled (the name) out because it had a heavier meaning at the time. Dance while you can and enjoy life like it’s the end of the world. It’s true these days.”

The album’s song titles are also more political in nature than other MMW tracks with names including “New World” and “Bloody Oil.” However, Medeski explains that names for tracks reflect things going on in their lives and don’t have an overtly political message. The songs are decidedly darker than a typical MMW CD and also manage to span genres with a Cuban feel on “Miami Gato” and “Sasa,” a funkier track that features guitar work from Marc Ribot.

Another new experience for the band was working with John King of the Dust Brothers, who also produced Beck’s Odelay and the “Fight Club” soundtrack.

“John King was very methodical with all the work he put into it. I think that what came out is a really cool perspective on our music,” Medeski said. The album was also MMW’s last on Blue Note Records.

Where does MMW go from here? Medeski isn’t exactly sure. “We have to ride the wave and let it see where it takes you,” Medeski said, adding that the band is considering making another CD with guitar player John Scofield to follow up 1998’s A-Go-Go, which the group collaborated with Scofield on.

The band would also like to explore other genres. “We’ve wanted to do some hip hop, but no one wants to play with us. We’re just a bunch of white guys,” Medeski said.

Still, the group cherishes its diverse musical tastes. “I like all kinds of music. I just enjoy playing with adaptive people and at a high level. Heck, I like playing with little kids. It’s just about playing music,” Medeski said.

On their tour, the trio will be featuring a large buffet of music at their show at the 9:30 Club this month. “We’re playing the usual. You never know what’s gonna happen. We have new material since last time we were in D.C. We’ll cover our whole musical history. We’ve been playing two sets where we do it all and everything,” Medeski said.

With such an unpredictable concert set, what’s with the simple band name? The band had tried out many different names in the early 90s but ended up using their own last names. “We were looking for band names and there were so many creative names on shitty bands. We picked our names and stuck with it. We wanted to be like Siegfried and Roy,” Medeski said. But when you’re a group that is able to span two genres the way MMW can, what’s in a name?

Medeski, Martin & Wood will be playing at the 9:30 Club on Friday, Nov. 1. Tickets are $25.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.