Hearing Aide: John Medeski’s Mad Skillet

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old, yet you are lucky enough to be around for another John Medeski side project. The mastermind of recruiting untouchable supergroups such as Hudson, The Word and Spectrum Road is here to release the newest roster with Mad Skillet. Their fresh, self-titled album features the otherworldly jazz organist along with his New York native buddy, Will Bernard­–an insanely adaptable guitarist that works as a sonic chameleon in the studio.

Medeski also picked up a pair from the world-renowned Dirty Dozen Brass Band in Kirk Johnson on sousaphone and drummer Terence Higgins–both Louisiana natives and both highly capable of gritty improvisation. The album was recorded on the hallowed ground of a 1930’s wood-framed church across the mighty Mississippi from downtown New Orleans and the Crescent City influence is hammered home throughout the 9-track eclectic spread.

Opening John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, “Man About Town” is a great introduction to what this quartet brings to the table. Swirling organ work, bluesy guitar, thick slabs of sousaphone bass and well-executed drumming are poised to take the soulful song in a new direction when performed live. The second track is a Medeski tune called “Invincible Bubble” not to be confused with “Uninvisible” which is the title track from 2002’s Medeski, Martin and Wood album.“Invincible Bubble” is the sound you would expect if the New Orleans-based Popeye’s chicken chain needed an updated theme song for a commercial (and who doesn’t love that chicken from Popeye’s). Each of the four members gets their time to punch in with Higgins driving the train on percussion, Bernard executing a dirty jazz guitar, Medeski nailing a plethora of keyboards, and Johnson bringing a swampy sousaphone reminiscent of an alligator rising up from the murky water.

Mad Skillet pays tribute to Sun Ra with the fourth track, “Golden Lady.” Sun Ra’s “The Lady with the Golden Stockings” can be found on the 1966 album The Nubians of Plutonia, which featured songs recorded from late 50’s Chicago sessions. Nearly 60 years later, Mad Skillet tightened up Sunny’s loose jazzy sound with their own unique modifications in the studio. The thrilling, Sean Connery approved track would serve as the perfect theme song for an early James Bond flick. Medeski makes his moves with the Mellotron, Bernard vibrates on a wave of surf rhythm guitar and Johnson provides an elusive bassline.

“Piri Piri” is the poppy street jazz you may find walking around during the heart of Mardi Gras. Medeski’s up-tempo piano keeps a light and swanky vibe throughout while Bernard shows off his nasty versatility by way of melodic guitar. Higgins gets his moment to shine behind the kit and is heard proclaiming, “Nailed that shit! Y’all some bad motherfuckers” at the very end of the ditty. Track 6, “Psychedelic Rhino” was one of two improvised studio sessions along with “Tuna in a Can” to make the Mad Skillet cut and also serves as the longest song on the record. A prime example of their diverse talents, “Psychadelic Rhino” takes a 180-degree turn from the rest of the album and can be attributed to the wild live approach of The Doors, the trippy Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters studio sessions, and a rhinoceros with a head full of acid running around Guitar World. This one opens many doors and ensures that things have the potential of getting pretty weird on the upcoming Mad Skillet tour.

Speaking of the tour, Mad Skillet will hit Buffalo, Cohoes, and Brooklyn during their visit to the Empire State. A full list of tour dates can be found here.

Key Tracks: Invincible Bubble, Golden Lady, Little Miss Piggy

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