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Medeski  Martin & Wood - Radiolarians III CD (album) cover


Medeski Martin & Wood


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.51 | 11 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars The last chapter in a trilogy of likeminded Medeski Martin & Wood albums completed one of the major cycles of original music so far this young century. Radiolarians (for all you biology class dropouts) were Cambrian Age amoeboid protozoa known for their fascinating skeletal structure, which the Brooklyn trio embraced as a simile for their own organic instrumental forms.

Just don't call it Jazz, or even Jazz Rock. MMW specialize in an altogether different blend of acoustic and electric fusion, skipping lightly over counter-intuitive styles with the same joy and dexterity of Gene Kelly dodging raindrops. From outer atmosphere improvisations to inner city shuffles to hybrid psychedelic gospel reggae-rock vamps (the latter in "Gwyra Mi": hear it to believe it), this is an album much easier to enjoy than it is to pin down.

The entire "Radiolarian" series was road-tested before any actual studio recording, and internalized down to the level of their collective DNA. The result is a body of music not so much composed as captured in mid-air. Every track was developed with the freedom of performance found only in Jazz, while employing all the stylistic liberties of Progressive Rock.

This last and best set begins with one of the band's trademark unplugged jams, nervous and jerky but swinging in a way sure to please your inner beatnik. The production has a thrilling immediacy that puts the listener in the same room while the trio works its magic: sometimes it's difficult to say if the musicians are playing their instruments, or the other way around.

Keyboardist John Medeski is all over every cut, but his astonishing unplugged piano solo in "Jean's Scene" remains a highlight not just of the album but of his ongoing career. He then immediately turns around and works similar alchemy on his Hammond B3 organ, in "Broken Mirror" (that exotic zither-like sound is him plucking the piano strings using a flathead screwdriver).

And listen to his frantic yet tasteful intro to the traditional hymn "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down", another in the occasional series of New Orleans voodoo spirituals re-visited by the band. Chris Wood's distorted bass guitar offers the perfect counterpoint to Medeski's raucous piano, sounding like Old Scratch himself come to collect your wayward soul. And the final piece to a very eclectic puzzle is Billy Martin's seemingly unstructured but always pinpoint drumming: check out his restless toe-tapping vitality in "Walk Back".

Put all three albums together (see the "Radiolarians Evolutionary" box set) and you have a career-defining collection of modern music. But separately each is still an essential package, Volume III perhaps most of all. I'd been wondering how to best justify my five-star rating here, but then realized I wouldn't have to: the music did it all by itself.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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