Chris Wood is best known as the bassist for the quirky jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood. Since the early 1990s, he has explored with that group just about every texture you can create with an upright bass, a drum kit, and an array of vintage keyboards plus the occasional regular piano. MMW's 1996 album Shack-Man (Ryko/Gramaphone) was their coming-out party, launching them from New York's Lower East Side to international fame. Wood's agile and conversational playing was the linchpin of that album's chugging funky soul-jazz, by turns keeping keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin in line, and urging them to orbit the rings of Saturn.
This is still the kind of music the band are best known for, and despite the fact that MMW have always considered themselves as serious jazz heads and not just merchants of groove, the danceability of their mid-1990s albums won the group an ardent hippie audience. Indeed, around that time the group began to move away from live shows that funked out from beginning to end in favor of sets that explored textures and harmonies in a more cerebral way, albeit still with a liberal dose of broken-spined funk. They even added a turntablist to the mix at times (as on 1999's very worthwhile Combustication), allowing for four-way group improvisations that often ranged into free-jazz territory.
One effect of these changes was that the spotlight receded from the group a bit, allowing them to make the music they wanted to make out of sight of legions of smelly fans that they didn't necessarily want or need. Another effect was that their recorded output became less predictable. Since 1998, the band's home has been Blue Note Records, and true to that label's heritage the band have matured from makers of groovy jazz-funk spiked with a little avant-garde sourness into an intrepid, if only intermittently compelling, group of avant garde jazz explorers.
Since signing with Blue Note, MMW have achieved the impossible: they have managed to retain an avid audience of casual-at-best jazz fans who are willing to buy their albums through numerous experimental phases, and have simultaneously become prime movers in the hipper-than-thou downtown Manhattan jazz scene where they got their start in the early '90s. Given all this continued success, it seems like Medeski Martin & Wood have it all figured out.
Interesting, then, that Chris Wood's first non-Medeski Martin & Wood record has nothing to do with any of this whatsoever. Instead, he and his brother Oliver have teamed up as The Wood Brothers to produce Ways Not To Lose, an easygoing and downcast folk/country family jam. The record is quite a departure indeed, at least in genre, from Chris Wood's other work. Out are the lopsided jazz explorations, and in are warm and homey acoustic back-porch grooves that owe a debt to Keb' Mo', Tom Waits, and early Doctor John.