Medeski, Martin & Wood: Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT 12/3/09

Medeski Martin and Wood have never enjoyed themselves so much in Vermont as on their Higher Ground appearance December 3rd. Perhaps it’s a comfort level arising from nearly annual visits to the Green Mountains for a decade or more, but just as likely, the trio’s obvious delight derives from  a sense of renewed pleasure in playing together in the wake of the recently-completed ‘Radiolarians Series.’
Certainly the uninterrupted first set, interweaving much of that new material, illustrated how MMW’s music has evolved. The prominence of John Medeski on acoustic piano even outstripped his forays at the Hammond organ during the first hour plus, this in addition to his versatile use of a battery of electric keyboards and synthesisers. As Chris Wood switched back and forth between two electric basses and an acoustic stand-up, and Billy Martin made unusually extensive use of his array of percussion instruments, the music exhibited  a density far removed from the comparatively simple primary instrumental colors of Shackman. Sound guru David Kent’s mix revealed all the detail too.

The second set proved Medeski Martin and Wood have not, however, forsaken the funky riffing that keynoted their career through their Blue Note debut Combustication.  On the contrary, the second hour plus encore was comprised of a string of relatively compact punchy numbers, including one on which Medeski riffed his way throughout on melodica. The threesome might stylize themselves if they repeat this somewhat more conventional  approach with regularity, but on this fully-moonlit early winter night at the comfortably-populated South Burlington venue, the tack the trio took supported the exploratory aspect of their music. Plus, it paid the extra dividend of increasingly vocal response from a loyal audience.

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