Concert Review: Medeski, Martin and Wood

The Medeski, Martin, and Wood shows at the Zappa served as intense musical experiences for those who merited to attend.

John Medeski 88 224 (photo credit: Ben Jacobson)
John Medeski 88 224
(photo credit: Ben Jacobson)
Medeski, Martin and Wood Goldstar Zappa Tel Aviv April 3 In late March, New York-based jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood (MMW) completed a tour of the American Northeast, after which keyboardist John Medeski joined Russian rock band Auktyon and guitarist Marc Ribot at Irving Plaza for a one-night engagement. Then Ribot flew to Israel to participate in the John Zorn Festival here, while MMW geared up for a three-night, six-show residency at Tel Aviv's Goldstar Zappa club. When the first night of MMW shows was canceled, it just meant that the band members were free to attend Zorn's Cobra show at the Barby down in South Tel Aviv. But the four shows in two nights that remained on the roster for MMW at the Zappa served as intense musical experiences for those who merited to attend. Two 70-minute concerts in each night may sound like a formula for a sales-maximizing rip-off to those of us who have grown accustomed to three-hour jam band shows, but these performances were of a different nature, more akin to a mini-residence at the Blue Note than to a one-off auditorium or festival stint. The sign in the entrance to the Zappa club indicates that if 305 people had entered, the event would have been a zoning infringement, but the intimacy of the room certainly felt like it was in line with the law. Dancing was only allowed in the back, where flailing limbs were less likely to obscure those seated at tables, but it's not often that one has the chance to indulge in the close monitoring of the finger movements and facial expressions of improvisational music legends like these three. Always searching for the next groove texture, the show was an integral part of the band's plan to release three albums in 2008, each one serving as a benchmark that canonizes the experiments that a separate seasonal tour has yielded. "It's an opportunity to get together and figure out, 'Hey, what do we have to say right now?' Because it's improv-based, [the music] can be developed throughout the course of the tour," Medeski recently explained to the Popcorn Youth blog. So while the set list included many jams previously unknown even to MMW's official archivist, many back-catalog tunes made appearances as well. The Israeli jazz connoisseurs and American free-form groove fans who were in attendance surely felt fortunate to have witnessed this process intimately unfolding before them, in full-blown, expressive real-time.