It's not easy to pin a stylistic label on Medeski Martin & Wood. Is it a jazz band? Psychedelic punk? Instrumental space rock? Power lounge? All of the above apply, yet none of the answers is quite correct.
The trio's performance at Barby Tel Aviv last week, however, made it easy to apply a different kind of label. It was one of those shows from which you emerge and say, it was sababa - cool. No less, but also no more. Enjoyable, but not really excellent. Successful, yet not really unforgettable. Fun of the sort that fades away. Sababa.
This feeling of sababa was not an immediate one. The first half hour of the performance, in fact, was sababa-minus. The whole envelope was there: the equilateral triangle of the dynamic at which the Medeski Martin & Wood band (henceforth MMW ) excels: Medeski's heartwarming vintage keyboards, the typical combination of the abstract and the smiling, Chris Wood's wonderful groove on the bass. Nevertheless something was missing, both on the melodic and harmonic content side, which was quite meager, and on the side of the human spirit wafting from the stage, which was a bit lacking in joy and enthusiasm.
It should be noted that while the band itself lacked enthusiasm, the group of potheads who was there to see them was in ecstasy. One fellow even shouted at one point, "Your music makes my brain hot!"
And the brain did indeed heat up slightly after about 30 or 45 minutes. Drummer Billy Martin, who was not brilliant at the start, entered into a deep groove. The numbers became meatier and more viscous, or else wonderfully airy. The musical content - tunes and improvisations - became more interesting, though even in those sequences there weren't wildly stirring moments. Still, the level of enjoyment was high.
Then, during the encore, MMW started playing their version of "Hey Joe" and the sababa became sababa-plus plus. Medeski was the star of this wonderful number. He caressed the Wurlitzer and the Hammond wisely and with restraint, reaching the peak in the song's famous riff, which proceeds assertively in half-tones. Medeski relinquished the whole progression of the riff, playing only parts of it. And he did this in a way that transformed the murder ballad into nearly a lullaby, nearly a children's song. Hey Joe-Joe, where you goin' with that water pistol? Be careful when you cross the street and be back by 7:00 for supper.
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