Medeski, Martin & Wood
More than a decade into their career, Medeski, Martin & Wood continue to expand their sound. This time out, they've enlisted John King (Dust Brothers, Beck, Beastie Boys) as producer and engineer, and he brings a left-field pop sensibility to the table without ever sacrificing the personality and energy of the band. OK, it's not really "pop," but the songs themselves are less overtly "out" than the last couple records despite some wicked, nasty, wonderful tones. The new sound is a thick one, with lots of different layers and perhaps the largest keyboard arsenal ever assembled. On the first track alone, "Anonymous Skulls," you can hear just about every keyboard sound known to man, but it never gets too busy or claustrophobic. In fact, it's almost like the overdubbing process made them more aware of the tunes themselves rather than just the playing, making the songs particularly focused. It's easy to tell this is MMW, with Chris Wood's rich basslines, John Medeski's often percussive virtuosity, and Billy Martin's easily identifiable beats, but all the different layers and bits of ear-candy details really add a new element to the sound. There's also the fairly prominent use of Mellotron, which adds great texture, especially in the sometimes abusive hands of Medeski, who really demonstrates knowledge and mastery of every different keyboard and keyboard style. Forsaking the plethora of guest stars of the last two albums, the only guests are Marc Ribot (on four tracks) with the Sex Mob horns (Steven Bernstein and Briggan Krauss) joining on one of those. Ribot plays with perhaps his thickest, most distorted tone on record on "New Planet," and really lets it rip on "Queen Bee." End of the World Party (Just in Case) is probably the most intricately assembled of the MMW records, but the grooves are still unshakable and the bottom line is that they're still a great band. The fact that they continue to push their sound, even enlisting an almost mainstream "rock" producer to spice things up, is almost a victory in itself in the generally too-safe world of jazz, but the real success is that they keep putting out great records. This is no exception.