In the bio that accompanies Medeski Martin and Wood’s new album, Shack-man (Gramavision), keyboardist John Medeski spouts some populist claptrap about “trying to bring the aesthetic of jazz down to earth for younger generations to relate to.” If such an educational process occurs via MMW’s music, that’s fine, but things get dangerous when musicians turn to pedagogy (one Wynton Marsalis is enough, thanks). In actuality the group’s fourth album is their least jazzlike affair, relying more on the grooves that have previously undergirded their wiggy improvisations. It’s telling that this is the trio’s first album without acoustic piano: the instrument’s absence is surely indicative of a desire to replicate the band’s live sound, but it also marks a break with jazz methodology. The album’s 11 tunes were developed during the band’s incessant touring, and each piece does seem rooted in small rhythmic kernels of the sort frequently produced in jamming situations. Unfortunately their development hasn’t proceeded much past that–the groove has taken precedence over inventive improvisation. Drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood do craft some sumptuous, danceable grooves, but Medeski seems content to merely drape them with sheets of Hammond B-3, clavinet, and Wurlitzer. Despite all of this Shack-man is not without its charms, and MMW do truly smoke live. It’s just disappointing that they’ve decided to appeal to the feet at the expense of the brain. Friday, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/ Michael Macioce.