For well over a decade, Medeski, Martin and Wood (henceforth referred to as "MMW") has been to acid jazz what Crosby, Stills & Nash is to folk-rock: a group at the top of the heap consisting of three extraordinary talents, and whose main releases are richly supplemented with temporary configuration change-ups and notable side projects. Heck, MMW even have their own Neil Young in John Scofield, and the four released a Deja Vu of sorts just last year in Out Louder. With the release this week of Mago, MMW has opened up a "Crosby & Nash" chapter in their saga.
Mago, quite simply, is the result of a collaboration between drummer Billy Martin and organist John Medeski; MMW sans bassist Chris Wood. In reality, Martin and Medeski first got together back in 1989 before adding Wood to the mix, and they intended to record as a duet way back when. The runaway success of MMW got in the way of those plans until now.
Coming on the heels of the Scofield collaboration and Wood's own side project Ways Not to Lose by the Wood Brothers (which is still on my "to listen to" list), this was as good of a time as any for Billy and John to fill this square. Last summer they laid down tracks in a New York studio in two days time with Martin manning the drums and Medeski working his magical Hammond B-3.
So what does Martin and Medeski sound like when they're not bringing the Wood? To use yet another rock analogy, it's a lot like listening to a Donald Fagen record: most people probably won't notice the missing member, but the dedicated Steely Dan fans will catch on and probably like it, anyway. MMW puts the acid in acid jazz, and so does MM. The acidic levels varies, but you wouldn't confuse this with MMW's last effort as a trio, the relatively accessible End of the World Party. On the other hand, it's not the total Chemical Brothers-type freakfest that is The Dropper. It does, however, have it's wiggy moments, and there seems to be more emphasis on musicianship than on some of the most recent MMW efforts.