Medeski, Martin & Wood’s moody, genre-bending take on long-form improvisation–trance-inducing grooves that mix jazz lines with postpunk rhythms, a touch of psychedelia, and occasional hip-hop scratching, all immersed in a gently shimmering bath of keyboard textures–is as close to a definition of “acid jazz” as we’re likely to get. The trio took a step back from the early-90s hip of their customary approach for last year’s Tonic (Blue Note)–a mostly acoustic reminder of their music’s postbop roots, the album came off as a pleasant 21st-century update on Ramsey Lewis’s trio of the 1950s–but they’ve returned to form with their new record, The Dropper. MM&W’s extreme popularity among the college crowd comes at a price: while their extended jamming can disarm listeners and draw them in, it also tends to prevent anything very interesting from happening in terms of melodic or harmonic development or even rhythmic variety. But as the preeminent jam band of the late 90s, one of the best-selling jazz acts today, and a model for countless imitators, MM&W doesn’t need my recommendation–so I don’t mind saying that for me the real attraction of this show is the contrast between MM&W and the opening act, 8 Bold Souls, led by saxist and composer Edward Wilkerson Jr. Wilkerson has succeeded with this group because he collages familiar idioms to create something that resonates with each but stands apart from them all–in a way, he’s tackling the same artistic puzzle as MM&W. But his Souls have found a startlingly different solution, drawing on a whole different set of source material: 1940s Duke Ellington instead of 1950s Jimmy Smith, the jazz avant-garde of the 70s instead of the rock avant-garde of the 80s, and a wide range of acoustic, rather than electronic, colors. And Wilkerson’s spiky arrangements–which often emphasize his innovative use of tuba, cello, and clarinet as well as his own tenor work and the blistering trumpet of Robert Griffin–aim to puncture the same kind of hypnotic grooves MM&W perpetuate. Friday, May 18, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Danny Clinch/Darlene Martin.