Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood play Bend tonight

Athletic Club hosts renowned jazz fusion collaboration

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog


If you go

What: Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, doors open 5:30 p.m.

Cost: $34, available at Newport Market (541-382-3940) in Bend. Dinner tickets are $74, available through the venue.

Where: Athletic Club of Bend, 61615 Athletic Club Drive

Contact: www.c3events.com or 541-385-3062

Scour the planet and you might find a handful of bands in a more enviable position than renowned avant-jazz/funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood.

But not many.

Earth simply isn’t crawling with tightly knit groups of musicians who can record an album’s worth of restless, improvisational experiments with legendary noise guitarist Nels Cline, then turn around five months later and crank out a record of highly accessible, mildly Afro-Latin-influenced feel-good jams with John Scofield, an equally legendary jazz guitarist.

But Medeski Martin & Wood — who’ll play in Bend with Scofield on Thursday (see “If you go”) — can. And did.

The former, “Woodstock Sessions” with Cline, was released in April. It’s intense and challenging, an hourlong excursion that buzzes and chirps and burbles and clunks and usually, eventually, finds its way into some sort of propulsive groove, even if there’s some spine-tingling scraping noise along the way.

The latter, “Juice,” will come out in September. It’s the third studio collaboration between MMW and Scofield, after 1998’s “A Go Go” and 2006’s “Out Louder,” and it’s charming and compact; the grooves here do not play hard-to-get. “Juice” would be an excellent soundtrack for an easygoing backyard barbecue. Or, y’know … an evening spent lounging on the grass at the Athletic Club of Bend.

Because Scofield will join MMW in Bend, GO! Magazine’s interview with MMW drummer Billy Martin focused mostly on “Juice,” and the quartet’s history together.

“When we get together with Sco, I just know the chemistry and the dynamic of working with him, what he likes, what he excels at, what he’s comfortable with,” Martin said by phone from his studio in Southern California. “It’s more song form and certain kinds of changes … that are what makes him who he is as a composer and player. So you know that you’re going to be playing more tunes and having fun with it.

“With Nels, we just improvise every second of every moment that we’re together,” he continued. “They’re both very satisfying, but it’s very different.”

Trying to pin down the number of full-length releases in MMW’s discography is futile. Since coming together in New York City in the early 1990s, the trio — which includes keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Chris Wood in addition to Martin — has put out more than two dozen albums, including the Scofield and Cline collaborations. In that time, MMW has become known as one of the world’s premier bands fusing jazz and funk, improv and written grooves.

“Juice” will certainly add to the band’s reputation. It’s a project rooted in Martin’s love of Afro-Latin music, from bossa novas and boogaloos to New Orleans second lines and beyond. He said MMW had been talking about building a record out of that concept for years. When the group finally decided to pursue it, Medeski, Martin and Wood invited Scofield to join the fun.

“He loves that stuff. More than half the music we play with him is just automatically in that mode, so it wasn’t really a stretch,” Martin said. “Of course, when we actually set out to do it, we didn’t do it, exactly. There’s always something. You have to recognize the good stuff that’s happening in the moment (in the studio).”

Indeed, songs like “Juicy Lucy,” “Stovetop” and Martin’s own “Louis the Shoplifter” ride Afro-Latin rhythms to dizzying heights. But then there are more straightforward covers of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” plus an 11-minute long dub take on Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

Those songs have “nothing to do with boogaloos and bossas,” Martin said. But then again, MMW (with or without Scofield) has never been afraid to stray from the planned path.

“Tunnel vision and sticking to a concept to the point where the music is suffering, that’s the antithesis of what we’re about,” Martin said. “We’re about just discovering magic in the moment.”

And whether that moment comes in the middle of a noisy high-wire act featuring a shredding Nels Cline or a relaxed jazz-pop jam with the silky John Scofield doesn’t make much difference to Martin.

“The music with these guys is in such a nice place that they do complement each other,” he said. “You go out with one and go out with the other (and) it’s nice. It’s like visiting another culture. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is cool, too.’”

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com