Medeski Martin & Wood Enter the ‘Omnisphere’

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Drummer Billy Martin (left), keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Chris Wood all have recording projects outside of their trio.

(Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz)

“It was Alarm Will Sound who were often hitting the grooves harder,” he said. “I anticipated the lead drummer on ‘Coral Sea’ from a time perspective would be Billy, but he was often, with his astonishing percussion setup, creating colors—an orchestral role, rather than a time role.”

A visual artist who devised the cover for Omnisphere, Shack-Man and other MMW works, Martin’s score for “Coral Sea” was more impressionistic than Medeski’s roadmap for “Eye Of Ra,” although there was plenty of space left for improvisation on the latter as well. The hues that inhabit “Coral Sea” are luminous and fluorescent, Medeski’s pellucid, globular notes drip beneath a dissonant sound-wave that suggests bow on metal. The trembling vibrato of the strings makes violin and cello uncannily redolent of voices—mermaids in distress?

“I sent [arranger Jason Price] a transcription of a double piano piece I’d recorded,” Martin said about putting “Coral Sea” together, “not the phrasing, just the notes. And he took it even further out of the rhythmic context, making the piece even more impressionistic. It took me a while to feel comfortable about it, but it balances out all the other work, using the orchestra in a coloristic way.”

Alarm Will Sound’s Price wrote the poised arrangement of “Coral Sea” and makes a splash on trumpet on the opener to Omnisphere, Payton MacDonald’s “Kid Tao Mammal (Unworldliness Weirdo),” which features sprite-like contrary lines, the icy leitmotif of a music-box keyboard and aching cello from Stefan Freund. Elsewhere, Freund offers an arrangement of “End Of The World Party (Just in Case)” off MMW’s 2004 Blue Note album, End Of The World Party, and Wood at last gets to drive the groove on “Anonymous Skulls” from the same album, in a setting by violinist Courtney Orlando.

Brown penned two bass parts for “Northern Lights,” so he and Wood could work in tandem. And as Martin articulates in the chapter “Exploring The Omnisphere” in Wandering: “The more unique ideas and variations we create, the more our Omnisphere expands … . n the Omnisphere, literally everything is possible.”

His minutely detailed graphic scores and intriguing designs recall the innovations of Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith, but there’s no doubting the sincerity and focus of Martin’s own vision.

At press time, he was flying off to Zagreb, Croatia, for a solo show, three days of workshops and an art exhibit, just as Wood embarks on a European tour with his group, and Medeski heads to Japan for some solo performances before returning to tour with his New Orleans-centric quartet Mad Skillet, featuring guitarist Will Bernard, sousaphonist Kirk Joseph and drummer Terence Higgins. The troupe’s self-titled debut is out now on Indirecto, MMW’s label.

Despite their multifarious activities, Medeski Martin & Wood recorded another album for spring 2019 release at Allaire Studio near Woodstock, and were filmed for a related documentary.

So, it appears that their presence in the Omnisphere is destined to continue, a 27-year-old partnership that has yet to get old. DB

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