Until now, I’ve never been entirely sure whether or not I liked Medeski, Martin and Wood. Perhaps I’ve heard them dismissed one time too many as a jazz band for Deadheads, or a Grateful Dead analog for fans of Coltrane, Monk and Piazzola.
Of course, neither of those things are intrinsically bad, although they conjure visions of an almost paradoxical stoner/beatnik audience.
Medeski, Martin and Wood
Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best of (1991-1996)
However, this cherry-picked compilation, which culls gems from every commercially-available MMW release prior to Combustication, shows just how shockingly good the band can be. There are enough little musical epiphanies on Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps) to keep you going for months. It’ll take you back to the days when bands weren’t pre-packaged pretties with heads full of choreography and little else, but carefully balanced, well-rehearsed ensembles for whom musical reciprocation was second nature and planned set-lists were the stuff of amateurs. MMW can be lethally funky, and MMW can be ice-cold cool…all within the space of a minute.
You’ll notice John Medeski’s contributions first. A master of everything with a keyboard, he winkingly slips a Bowie riff into “Macha” and adds uneasy, piano-driven urgency to “Hermeto’s Daydream.” But it’s Chris Wood’s loose-limbed acoustic bass work that truly provides foundation here, underpinning each tune with a seemingly effortless rhythm, while Billy Martin proves he can play every drum known to man.
Though Last Chance… is intended as a back-catalog-milker, it’s an excellent introduction/eye-opener to the band. If it doesn’t at least make you consider supplemental MMW purchases, there’s probably something wrong with your ears.