Medeski, Martin and Wood

End Of The World Party (Just In Case)

(Blue Note; 2003)

By David M. Goldstein | 30 December 2007

I covered the most recent Phish album for this site a few months back (you can read that here), and while that review offered some insight into my continuous love for said band, I purposely omitted the somewhat embarrassing fact that I also used to listen to jambands other than Phish. The filter was off for the majority of my high school (and freshman year of college) career, and my tendency to gravitate towards bearded white guys and 13-minute guitar solos was substantial. Not that a 13-minute guitar solo need always be an ugly thing; I’d still call the Fillmore East version of the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” my favorite rock instrumental of all-time. But the early Allmans were a unusually talented bunch, and it's safe to say that the likes of Widespread Panic, moe., and, shudder, The Disco Biscuits will see my hard earned dollars no longer.

Medeski, Martin and Wood don’t have anything in common with the aforementioned bands. Their setup of drums, bass, and acid fried keyboards is far more akin to the early '70s electric phase of Miles Davis and Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock than the Grateful Dead. But sharing a stage with Phish (as MMW did once in 1995) will automatically assure you newfound scores of hairy individuals coming to your shows, in addition to instantly affixing the label of “jamband,” a scarlet letter "A" if there ever was one. They also haven’t done any wonders for their credibility by taking opening slots on tours headlined by Dave Matthews and 311 (a feat which may explain why I couldn’t find this record anywhere other than large chains), but I guess it pays the bills. Lest we forget that Michael Caine was unavailable to accept his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was away filming Jaws: The Revenge.

I mention all this because Medeski, Martin and Wood are perhaps the only hippie-affiliated outfit that I listened to ten years ago, and still do now. Despite having only three members, they never seem to run out of ideas. It helps that John Medeski (keys), Billy Martin (drums) and Chris Wood (basses) are all incredible musicians with virtuosic skill levels that most hippies will never begin to approach, but credit must also be given to John Medeski’s ever expanding keyboard rig; once consisting merely of a piano and a B-3 organ, now roughly the size of a small house. Check out the way he works the clavinet at any one of MMW’s many live shows; homeboy doesn’t so ‘play’ it as smack it like the ungrateful bitch that it is.

Medeski, Martin and Wood have eight studio albums to their name, and although they’re best experienced live, there really isn’t a dud in the bunch. Two weeks of constant listening has me convinced, however, that End of The World Party may prove to be their strongest effort to date. I’m guessing that much of this has to do with their choice of producer. MMW’s two prior records were both produced by Canadian hip-hop dude Scotty Hard (Kool Keith, Wu-Tang), and while both The Dropper (2000) and Uninvisible (2002) were excellent records, they were often guilty of being a little too esoteric for their own good, sacrificing a party atmosphere for degrees of hipster cool that sometimes felt forced. But 90’s modern rock aficionados know that Dust Brother John King seldom holds anything back when he’s behind the boards, and End of The World Party is an unhinged grand buffet of sound; containing MMW’s hardest grooves to date and far better than anyone had a right to expect.

And speaking of hipster cool, the title track of this record is cooler than you or I will ever be. Its Fender Rhodes licks and sampled string quartet noises are capable of turning your Chevy Cavalier into a vintage Fleetwood and your grass into hydro; making you feel like the coolest mutha-fuck-ah this side of Dolemite provided you can fight the uncontrollable urge to bob your head. In addition to “Rockit”-sounding keyboard riffing and spine-tingling piano, opener “Anonymous Skulls” actually finds John Medeski experimenting with that ‘cavern of lost souls’ effect that was overused as background noise on every Alice In Chains record (John King = more samples). “Sasa” features the Sex Mob horn section and the best upright bass groove Chris Wood has ever produced. The last minute of “Queen Bee” has Downtown guru (and 80’s Tom Waits sideman) Marc Ribot on guitar, and rocks harder than AC/DC. The salsa groove tacked on to the end of “Reflector” sends me into convulsions. This album rules!

I don’t know how much direct influence John King had over the making of this record, but like Paul’s Boutique and Odelay before it, EOTWP is an unapologetic party album; its grooves practically guaranteeing that your guests will get laid should you spin it at your next shindig. The hippies will like it too I’m afraid, probably even more so now that Phish has gone the way of the dodo. I’m honestly surprised that I like it as much as I do, and the generous numerical score is more than just puffery. The last time I would have considered a Medeski, Martin and Wood record for my year end Top 10, I was fifteen.