Saturday, March 30, 2013

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The second volume in keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood'sRadiolarians series is, much like the first, wildly eclectic. Certainly all the trio's records could be classified in this way, but few of them are as playful and musically adventurous as the ones in this series. Once more, the band incorporates everything in its own brand of modern jazz: from funk and rhythm & blues to the vanguard tradition; from soul and rock through carnival music, country, and beat-conscious grooves. "Flat Tires" opens the set and comes off all distorto-rockist in the intro thanks to Wood's nasty bassline that feels more like an electric guitar riffing before it's addressed by a couple of taut rolls byMartin and some wailing carnival organ by Medeski. This feels like film music, but it's more centered than that, because there are some stunning jazz improvs as Medeski's acoustic piano takes center stage. "Junkyard" follows. This cut, easily one of the best on the set, is a dead cross between some incidental music by Ennio Morricone spaghetti western and the Tom Waits of the Mule Variations. The shuffle, pop, and groove is given space, dimension, and atmosphere by shimmering keyboard sounds -- including accordion -- shuffling rimshot drums accented by forceful bass drum, and a downright nasty bassline. Like the previous volume, there is a cover on this set as well. Medeski plays the Rev. Gary Davis' "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" as a jazzy lounge tune with considerably more improvisational heft in his wonderfully labyrinthine acoustic piano lines. He adds some killer funky clavinet toward the middle to create an infectious groove that makes the timeless tune a modern-day groover. Check "Riffin' Ed" with its New Orleans second line funkiness, all done acoustically with some excellent work by Wood who gets his bass into the lower registers to push a bit against the melody line even as Martin breaks his beats and accents the taut end-line chords of Medeski's piano. Ultimately, what transpires on Radiolarians II is the notion of song. Certainly these tunes are played with great instrumental technique and musical acumen, but they are performed with the full intent of the listener's participation in the experience because each cut is so utterly memorable on its own. Chalk this one up as a must-have for longtime fans of MM&W, and an excellent introduction to what this group does best -- making jazz both provocative and fun.


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