Don’t Wanna Be a Radiolarian

Medeski Martin & Wood — Radiolarians II (Indirecto, 2008)

source: mmw.comI was all flattered that MMW named these albums after radio … but no! Turns out a radiolarian is one of these things. Ewww.

Medeski Martin & Wood have been getting more adventurous — departing from the groove more often, for instance — and like the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, they’ve been turning toward acoustic piano more.

(Not that there’s a direct correlation. If we take MMW as the first-generation jazz/jam band, for the kind of jazzing and jamming in question here, then JFJO is a second-generation unit. I guess The Bad Plus could be third generation, in a really loose and imprecise sense. They aren’t actually descended from the other two, but they would seem to share some common audience.)

There’s still an element of funk on Radiolarians II, but it’s masked by effects, or soft piano (as on the deceptively comforting “Riffin’ Ed”), or detatched, abstract improvising. The track “ijiji” (a.k.a. “I stared at the keyboard and couldn’t come up with a song title”) goes for a dark groove with all manner of detritus floating by, lots of little effects that add up to a nice junkyard of sound. Come to think of it, there’s also a track called “Junkyard,” which starts with a quiet, quiet improvisation before getting into a dark groove.

“Amber Gris” opens with quiet little criss-crossing riffs from drums, bass, and piano, a nice counterpoint exercise — but then it blasts into a loud variation on the same thing. Nice rocking track; they’ve even made a video for it.

As an aside, I’ll note that I’m running behind on my MMW homework; Radiolarians III apparently comes out in August, and Radiolarians I didn’t make it to the KZSU mailbox at all.