For the new album by Medeski, Martin & Wood, the trio have dipped into the vaults for the all-acoustic tour they did in 2007 to share a bit of what brings fans back to their music, albums and shows. It’s a celebration of the chemistry they have as musicians and friends, and perhaps that’s why they called it Free Magic (Indirecto).
While the group has incorporated acoustic instruments throughout their career, this was the first time they did an all-acoustic tour. No Hammond B-3, no Fender bass, no acoustic drums within the massive illyB arsenal, just back to basics, back to nature, and perhaps that’s why the album begins with that chemistry in its origins. It sounds like someone entering a lab and hearing/witnessing the creation of life for the first time. Or perhaps it’s the creation of music, as Billy Martin’s drums and percussion are immediately brought to its African core. John Medeski comes into the scene and seems to add a classical touch. Chris Wood decorates the scene as if to let his friends know he is there. They are there, “we are there”, and Medeski’s melodica enters the picture. In time, one realizes that it sounds like the starting of an orchestral concert ready to start, the warm-up, but you know very well there are only three people on the stage. It feels like foreplay that you never want to end, but you just want in, you want to go in deep. That’s when the funk begin, and “Doppler” may very well be a weather reference that helps determine the incoming clouds, but clouds only help pave the way for blue skies and sunny days.
“Blues For Another Day” will be eaten up by anyone who has ever enjoyed that chemistry MMW have with one another, because the core of this song is of course the blues. It could be a 12-bar groove or a boogie, but it sounds like a 24-bar blues adventure. What makes this an adventure is that you have the anchor of Martin and Wood communicating with one another as they solidify the base, the gumbo, the soup. Within that mixture is Medeski’s piano playing, that could be played in a simple fashion (it starts out that way) before it merges into a complex world of melodies, counter-melodies, in between passages, and secret doors where it comes off like a challenge not only for himself, but one from Medeski to Martin and Wood as if to say “we’re in this, let’s see how far we can drive one another.” By the time Medeski gets to a comfortable means of closure, you want to pass out from the joy.
The 12-minute “Free Magic – Ballade in C minor, ‘Vergessene Seelen’” combines different elements that could be a revisit to how the album started, but it is an intense track to listen to. “Where’s Sly”, from their 1993 debut album It’s A Jungle In Here, has been a fan’s favorite for years, one reason why the band have played it a number of times in different tours over the years, is taken on its traditional path but one knows that Medeski, Martin & Wood are never on that expected path of anything. You recognize the melody and feel of the song, but then they all take off, eventually leading to a mean drum solo from Martin.
The album ends with a song that honors their musicianship, friendship, and New York origin. Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square” seems a festive way to end the song with a bit of joyous playing and jamming, feeding off one another and the energy of the crowd who seem like they’re getting off and understanding the magic they are hearing and witnessing on stage. That kind of jamming has often been one of their many live show trademarks, where it feels like if they could, they’d bring everyone in the crowd on stage with them. In the past, they have sometimes walked into the crowd to bring everyone into the show, and for a brief moment, you realize why jazz can be a very spiritual music. Free Magic is a small example of what makes this band so great, and I hope as long as the bond between them is honest and genuine, they will continue to make music that makes people wanting more. This live album will make you wish it was twice as long, but there’s a wealth of music by them to explore. Begin now.