stolen from variety-playhouse.com:
By the time most popular bands approach making their tenth album, breaking boundaries is not easy. What's left to do? A set of standards? Duets? The ubiquitous Greatest Hits featuring two new songs? For improvisational trio Medeski Martin & Wood, this was not the challenge; thirteen years of creating music live together, on the spot, has ensured they rarely want for fresh ideas. No, what MMW sought for their latest, the sublime End Of The World Party (just in case), was a means of taking their ideas to the next level.
Towards that end, they opened up their creative circle to a new outside producer. "We were at a point where we were looking for a little more guidance and leadership," explains MMW drummer Billy Martin, noting that the democratic nature of the band can occasionally lead to stalemates and compromises, a predicament an outsider's presence would eliminate. Several candidates were considered, but in the end, the trio chose studio legend John King of the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys) to help refine their musical vision.
"John King just seemed right," says keyboard player John Medeski. "He knew who we were, yet when analyzing our music, the references he heard - Ramsey Lewis, Mandrill - were very different from what we listen to. With these other artists you could hear the parallels, but it wasn't anything that really influenced us directly. It made for a fresh perspective."
Martin was excited about the decision, too, albeit for different reasons. "When the band first got together, I was really into the hip-hop scene. Not just going to clubs, but into how the music was made." King's extensive credits range from landmarks like Beck?s Odelay and the Beasties' Paul's Boutique (widely credited with re-defining the possibilities of sampling) to Top 40 hits for Tone-Loc and Young MC, "so I was confident it was going to work out. I knew John King had the experience of taking pieces of music and sculpting them, making collages to write songs."
The trio and King commenced work on End Of The World Party as MMW typically do, improvising at their Shacklyn Studios (in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood), while the tapes rolled, for a week. Since the band knew Martin's wife was due to deliver a new baby any day, capturing the rhythm section was the priority. "At first, John was focusing on drums," confirms bassist Chris Wood. He would isolate a particular bar of Martin's drumming he liked, loop it, and make it the foundation for a verse, then repeat the process with a similar, yet not identical bar, and fashion it into a chorus. "That's how he started making the songs form."
Yet as King's creative processes dovetailed with MMW's, his approach to recording the trio evolved. "As he got to know how we improvise, and move from point A to point B in a piece, he started to edit things together, preserving that organic sound of what we do as an ensemble," continues Wood. "He started leaving our improvisations more intact, but editing and shaping them, as opposed to just taking the drums, and creating song forms, and then having us overdub over that."
"You could see he was really hooked into special, particular grooves and rhythms, adds Martin. "That was his key thing. He influenced our playing in that way."
From there, King, Medeski, and Wood retired to the producer's studio, The Medina, in Los Feliz, CA (Martin stayed home to help care for his new son, who was born the morning after the final day of recording). As King refined the Brooklyn source materials, Medeski and Wood overdubbed additional parts, and files of the songs were dispatched back to NYC, where Martin augmented his percussion contributions. Guests including guitarist Marc Ribot, slide trumpet player Steve Bernstein (of Sex Mob) and saxophonist Briggan Kraus also contributed to individual tracks.
Through both recording sessions, King kept the atmosphere relaxed yet lively. "We had a great time," recalls Martin. "We were cooking and eating a lot, making coffee and drinking wine. John was very into the quality, so he had a certain approach to recording which was very systematic but fun."
The final product of this bi-coastal effort, End Of The World Party (just in case), is MMW's catchiest record to date, the essence of their improvisational wizardry distilled into four- and five-minute tracks that have defined shapes, yet still eschew standard pop song forms. The opening "Anonymous Skulls" starts off like a reinterpretation of Serge Gainsbourg's immortal "Bonnie and Clyde," then slowly evolves into a condensed sci-fi film score. "Shine It" and the punchy "Reflector" marry elements of '70s rock and soul (the latter song sprinkled with a dusting of African chorus).
"Bloody Oil" boasts a more traditional jazz feel, emphasizing the interaction between bass and drums, while Medeski's keyboards hover in the background like specters in a haunted house, slowly building to a danse macabre. With its focus on the syncopated interplay between piano and drums, plus splashes of triangle, "Mami Gato" is a feisty excursion in Latin territory that accelerates in exuberance. It's no surprise that most of the cuts boast a cinematic quality; at one time, the album's working title was Medeski Martin & Wood: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Originally formed in 1991, Medeski Martin & Wood have risen from their roots in the New York underground to become one of the best known improvisational ensembles around, initially spending literally years crisscrossing the country in an RV to build their audience. Yet having just another breakthrough of their 13-year career, they're excited to keep moving forward, playing the new material before crowds of fans, while contemplating their next album, too.
"Playing these tunes live is going to be fun, but we're also on the verge of finding interesting new ways of playing together. I want to keep exploring that," concludes Wood. "It all feels great, and gives me the feeling there's still a lot more to learn." Like the tongue-in-cheek title of their new album implies, just because it sometimes feels like the apocalypse may lurking around the bend, MMW have no intention of letting the party stop now.
Added by tolar on October 11, 2005