Medeski Martin & Wood’s Jazz-jam fusion drops at New Haven’s Palace Theatre

Mike Schoeck

Organic jazz-jam trio Medeski, Martin and Wood played a three-hour groove session at downtown New Haven’s Palace Theatre last Saturday.
The 11-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y. organ, bass and drum trio has released its tenth studio record this year, “Uninvisible,” on New York jazz label Blue Note Records, also home to MMW-cronies Norah Jones, John Scofield and Soulive.
The jazz fusion band played two sets for a fresh audience of 20-somethings and middle-aged jazz and jam-rock attendees. The first consisted of newer “Uninvisible” material, which is basically experimental electronic trance and fusion jazz, reminiscent of recent upstarts and fellow groove artists like John Scofield and Galactic.
Fairly disappointing was the no opening act routine, not typical for a band of veteran status, as MMW maintain with constant releases and touring, although they have a more modest college-aged following. Drummer Billy Martin, bassist Chris Wood and keyboardist John Medeski got a huge response from the crowd as they took the stage beginning their first set.
Their most experimental fusion material was featured in their first set, including “Uninvisible” numbers “Smoke” and “Nocturnal Transmission.”
Laced with straight scratched hip-hop beats, African moog effects and chiming Asian percussion, MMW’s first set was all about trance and turning the dials in every direction as Medeski contorted his keys with short-wave and loops to create a trippy avant-garde jazz product.
Martin’s Conga-drumming, ‘glocks’ and xylophone chimes enhanced the trance organ while Wood used a bow to contort the upright bass into what resembled the calls of a blood-thirsty moose, emu, elk or any other forest mammal that “caws” and grunts in distress.
Not uttering a word the entire first hour, group spokesman Martin announced that they would be playing a second set shortly after an intermission.
Into the second set the band played tirelessly, covering older groove standards and a few recognizable psychedelic rock covers, off records released during their Blue Note tenure and before, on the Gramavision label since their 1991 debut with “Notes from the Underground.”
Like a menacing dinosaur biting heads off helpless spectators, the trio vibed in fusion brilliance and wild improvisation. Highlights were buoyant funk, delictable soul and be-bop resurgence in “Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho.”
Medeski grinded some sonic effervescence out of his keys, as the band neared an encore, playing parts of vintage Hendrix hits “Hey Joe” and “Fire.”