Medeski Martin and Wood

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Transcendence, nirvana, enlightenment… the point at which every soul in a given space is focused in on the same vibration and all systems become self-perpetuating. It is a sensation that Medeski Martin & Wood have been chasing over the course of their nearly two-decade career. “In sports, they call it ‘the zone,’” reflects keyboardist John Medeski. “A classical musician can get there by completely immersing themselves in someone else’s music. We get there – and we try to bring the listener there with us – by improvising…” Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood have made improvisation their language – how they communicate with one another and how they communicate with an audience. Their genius for making even the most sophisticated rhythmic and harmonic ideas instantly relatable to their listeners, via long-honed group empathy and individual precision, is balanced by an uncanny knack for imparting the simplest statements with a profound resonance and clarity. In concert they spontaneously shape ideas, each performance marking the start of a journey whose destination is unknown even to them. “The band is not about songs, per se,” Medeski continues. “It’s about the feeling that comes out. So we do what we need to do to feed the feeling.” Medeski Martin & Wood devised their newest endeavor, The Radiolarian Series, to do just that. While never entirely locked in to the classic music industry cycle (write the material, record the material, then perform the material), it is a set of limitations that they have been subjected to regularly. After fruitful relationships with Grammavision and Blue Note records, Medeski Martin & Wood are now in control of their music’s release and distribution with their own Indirecto label. This unprecedented freedom allows them to embark the experiment that is The Radiolarian Series – a project that defiantly bucks age-old industry practices in service of artistic liberation. The idea is refreshingly straightforward. First, gather the trio for five days and either collectively compose new material or work up new pieces that the individual members bring in to the sessions. Next, hit the road and perform the new material almost exclusively. Perhaps a cover or an old favorite will emerge as an encore, but the core of the set list is fresh material. “It’s really about going on tour with completely different music and trying to break out of the routine of playing the hits,” says Medeski. Once the tour has ended, the trio retreats to the studio and, over three or four days maximum, records the new material, which is then released. Finally, they abandon the material performed on the first tour and repeat the process two more times to form a trilogy of albums, available separately or, eventually, as a limited-edition boxed set with special packaging and extra audio and video material. “The problem with us,” Medeski explains, “is that when we record an album, by the time a record company gets it out, we’ve already been playing the music for six or eight months, and we’re ready to move on.” The Radiolarian Series is designed to harness the band’s strengths as improvisers to create vital, dynamic studio albums, while also involving their audience in the evolution of the material. The first leg of the voyage has already been completed. After a few days of working up material, the trio set out on the road in February of 2008, then recorded the material in March. It will be released as Radiolarians 1 on September 30th, 2008. “For the first installment, everybody brought in tunes,” Medeski explains. “For this next one coming up, we’re going to get together and write collectively.” The band is quick to assert that, within the given framework of The Radiolarian Series, there are no rules. “No limits whatsoever,” Medeski concludes. “It’s really just about making music…” Originally called Viva La Evolution, The Radiolarian Series is named after radiolarians – a type of single-celled organisms whose dazzlingly intricate mineral exoskeletons were documented in a stunning series of plates by German biologist Ernst Haeckel. By inverting the industry standard and developing their material in front of an audience before entering the studio, they are giving their fans a revealing look at the way their material evolves – in a sense, putting the skeleton on the outside. The studio recordings will be cut in bare-bones fashion, designed to capture the feeling of the band’s live sets. David Kent, who does live sound for Medeski Martin & Wood, will also engineer the studio sessions, insuring the continuity of the concept. Formed in Brooklyn in 1991, Medeski Martin & Wood quickly set themselves apart from other improvising ensembles, thanks to the their audibly eclectic influences, tireless touring, unpretentious demeanor, a serious of adventurous-yet-accessible albums (including several widely-heralded collaborations with guitarist John Scofield), and the profound musical connection that continues to grow between the three members. “When I say we’re about spontaneity,” Medeski reflects, “spontaneity just means creating music in that moment of that moment. It doesn’t mean that you forcibly reinvent yourself. It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about creating a certain vibration or energy. By now, we know each other so well, we can go that much deeper. We don’t even need to talk…” In addition to The Radiolarian Series, Medeski Martin & Wood released their first record of children’s music in January (Let’s Go Everywhere on Little Monster Records) and, in July, their interpretation of longtime friend, collaborator, and admirer John Zorn’s Book of Angels, entitled Zaebos, will be released on Zorn’s Tzadik label. With The Radiolarian Series in motion and Indirecto up and running, Medeski Martin & Wood continue to challenge both the music industry and themselves. “We’re not subject to the way that things are supposed to be done,” Medeski concludes. “All evidence shows that the way that things are supposed to be done is wrong for music, and wrong for the spirit of music. You have to remember – there was music before there was any business: for work, for healing, for fun, for everything. We’re just trying to keep it honest, keep it true, and keep the real purpose of music alive for ourselves and for the people who like to hear us play.” For more information about Medeski Martin & Wood, visit mmw.net. For information on “Let’s Go Everywhere,” visit the band’s new myspace page, myspace.com/letsgoeverywhere.

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