Medeski, Martin & Wood: Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, Woodstock, NY 1/12/08

Medeski, Martin and Wood might seem one of the last viable prospects to share one of Levon Helm’s Rambles at his studio/barn in Woodstock. But it’s the joy of playing, far more than chosen musical style, the former Band drummer shares with these three contemporary jazz wizards.

And even though none of the latter three express that joy in the same radiant way Helm does, there was palpable warmth Medeski Martin Wood generated in the comparatively short condensed set they played on this evening. The tone of Billy’s voice as he did introductions as well as the fleeting smiles his two comrades exchanged as they played together, especially on the Ray-Charles derived middle number, exuded camaraderie hard to miss (especially when anywhere from five to fifteen feet from the trio where they were set up); to improvise in the uncanny manner of MMW is, by all appearances, a source of profound pleasure for each of them, not to mention the animated audience.

Following an afternoon show for kids in celebration of their just-released children’s album, the trio seemed content (but not by any means complacent) to mostly groove along. Slightly less than an hour on the stage of Levon’s barn included finely-etched bass solos from Wood on the standup, Martin on talking drum and Medeski rotating on his stool from electric keyboards to organ and piano then on to the acoustic version of the latter. The appearance of hornmen Steve Bernstein and Eric Lawrence hinted at what’s possible in such enlarged collaborations, but barely scratched the surface, no doubt due to the time constraints as an opening act.

For true aficionados Medeski Martin and Wood, the trio’s appearance in Woodstock would whet the appetite for a more expansive set the likes of which they usually perform as headliners. And for someone who’s never seen them before? In the words of one wag outside the barn after the show “I’d never miss a chance to see them again!.”

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