On Tuesday night in the historic Greenwich Village, Medeski Martin and Wood returned for the second night of their sold-out Le Poisson Rouge run. The room was damp from the weather outside and the lights were dimmed as The Thunderclouds welcomed the audience to the ceremony with a Native American chant. John Medeski, Chris Wood, and Billy Martin joined behind the three tribal drummers from Wisconsin, as the two trios became one on stage, igniting the crowd in an almost euphoric fashion.
The slow building jam picked up as the Thunderclouds exited the stage and morphed into an extended rendition of “Where’s Sly” off their second album It’s A Jungle In Here. Each member got their time in the spotlight as the crowd shook off the winter chill with a variety of dance moves. Up next was “Amber Gris” from Radiolarians II. The beginning of that track would serve as an excellent hip-hop beat and as much as I wanted to attempt to freestyle in front of my friends, I was able to contain myself in a room full of MMW veterans armed to give a solid “STFU” at any moment.
The first set came to a fantastic finish as the trio embraced the spirit of New Orleans with the danceable “Coconut Boogaloo” from the Combustication album. Bleecker Street in Manhattan felt a lot like Bourbon Street in Louisiana after a Mardi Gras parade as the packed room grooved to the Creole-influenced jam. While New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz, NYC is the birthplace of MMW and as set break began, longtime fans reminisced about seeing their baby all grown up after all these years.
Set two brought us back to the Bayou with a swampy “Seven Deadlies,” most recognized from the live album, Tonic. The mesmerizing bass solo by Wood had the crowd in a trance before handing the baton over to Medeski to work his magic. There were moments when Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon album came to life during the 15-minute plus jam and the crowd adapted to every minute of it. A loose version of “Undone” off Radiolarians III created space for the most soulful tune of the night, “Everyday People,” which is the second one played from Combustication. Medeski has spent a lot of time taking the crowd to church with his super-group, The Word, and the gospel influenced tune transformed the room into a sanctuary for a peaceful ten minutes of bliss. A haunting drum solo by the master, Billy Martin, quickly turned into “Nostalgia in Times Square/ Angel Race” where the golden oldies “On Broadway” can be heard teased throughout. Medeski went back and forth from the organ to the keys and despite no psychedelic influence, I am fairly certain he had four arms during that jam much like Goro from Mortal Kombat.
The always funky “Pappy Check” and “Partido Alto” got the blood flowing as this one-two punch ended the second set. The legendary band definitely didn’t need any introduction, but Martin announced the group anyway. When they returned for a much deserved encore, Billy remarked how right next door, the venue that was once the Village Gate was where they played their first ever show. Fans, friends and family of the band rejoiced as they launched into one of their most well known grooves, “Bubblehouse,” off the iconic Shack-man album. The trio shifted into high gear and revved the engine for an extended encore that left the crowd more than satisfied.
The 3-show January residency in their old stomping grounds came about because Chris Wood was hospitalized during the originally scheduled October dates. It was amazing to see the band sonically tight and physically healthy after the brief scare last fall. While the band does not tour as much as they once had, the spirit of experimental jazz is stronger thanks to 25 years of MMW. Cheers to another 25.
Set 1: Thunderbird Chanting>Jam, LPR Jam, Where’s Sly?, Amber Gris, Coconut Boogaloo> Jam
Set 2: Seven Deadlies, Undone, Everyday People*, Drum/ Percussion Solo, Nostalgia in Times Square/ Angel Race!, Pappy Check, Partido Alto
*w/ Amazing Grace tease
! w/ “On Broadway” & “Lively Up Yourself” teases