JOE’S JAZZY JAUNTS: Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood - Juice
The fusion quartet Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood are back this week with a new release, the oh-so-evocatively titled Juice. It’s a grab bag of funk, blues, Latin grooves, and the odd classic rock cover. This is the group’s third album together, though all the non-Scofield members have actually been playing together for several decades. At this point, they have a well-honed sound, one that is experimental but polished.
The record starts with the spirited “Sham Time,” a song by pop-friendly saxophonist Eddie Harris. The grease is laid on thick, as guitarist Scofield contributes a staccato figure that would please James Brown. He gets a dancing partner in John Medeski, who contributes peppy support on the organ.
“North London” has plenty of the usual jamming, but also sections that are big and eager to please. The title is a reference to the hometown of ‘60s group Dave Clark Five, and their sunniness can be heard here.
“Louis the Shoplifter” has an appropriate air of mischief to it. The Latin vibe is heavy, anchored by Billy Martin’s limber drumming. Medeski switches over to piano, employing his usual dissonant chords, but playing a bit more outside the beat.
The riff to “Louie Louie” can be heard at the beginning of “Juicy Lucy,” though it’s muted by an effect. Another quote seemingly pops up soon after, in the form of a synth swell that sounds much like the first note of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
A few tracks later, the group makes the borrowing explicit with its take on The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” Scofield plays the Jim Morrison role, using a clean but bluesy tone. Medeski doesn’t have to stretch too far, filling in the psychedelic keyboard template already present in the song. Scofield later slaps on the distortion and delivers rock star heroics, replete with wild bends and shredding.
The group threatens another cover on “Sunshine of Your Love,” though the elements of the Cream song are hard to make out. The song goes on for almost 11 minutes, riding a reggae feel filled with fragments of ideas. A bit of an original Clapton line will jump out for a second, before fading back into the mix.
The trifecta is completed on the final track, a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’.” Medeski puts things in a reverential mood with an organ hum, while Scofield picks out the melody. Dylan’s vocal line is fairly simple, so Scofield plays with dynamics and adds small digressions to make it more interesting. The style he uses is very reminiscent of Americana-jazz pioneer Bill Frisell.
The members of the group all bring distinct personal traits. Martin’s command of Latin rhythm keeps things from falling into a backbeat black hole. Medeski displays equal ability on his many keyboards, and can take a slightly different approach to each. Bassist Chris Wood is the steady one, but brings an active energy to his role. Scofield has a range of timbres, and can push things into the rock realm. Together, they make this album a diverse and unpredictable listen.