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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Top 3 for December 12, 2013

John Medeski at the ICA

I first encountered John Medeski in the late 80's when he was the piano player for Either/Orchestra. Through his playing I came to appreciate and come to an initial understanding of (for lack of a better term) free-jazz piano playing. I had heard some people like Cecil Taylor and Muhal Richard Abrams (not that JM necessarily sounds like either of those guys, but, you know), but had never really been won over until hearing Medeski wail on the Clavinova (which, as band leader Russ Gershon explained, is “an electric piano, not a mollusk.”) at the Middle East. The live version of Born in a Suitcase from the Across the Omniverse album is a good example of what I'm talking about. After leaving the Orchestra, he began to focus on playing organ, leaving the piano aside. Although I loved their first album, It's a Jungle in Here [oops, it's their second, but it's the first one I knew], I really came to dislike Medeski, Martin and Wood and they seemed to just be grooving out for the jam-band audience.

So the announcement of a Medeski solo piano concert had me hoping to reconnect with a long-lost favorite.

The opening twenty minutes or so were terrific. A start from nothing type of improvisation built around some Messiaen-like dissonances and clusters eventually settling around the tune of “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” Tunes were used as anchors for the improvisations, rather than jumping-off points. (Green Dolphin Street, I Remember You). But, like a microcosm of our 25 years together, things started to go astray. Vamps started to creep in along with oscillating between two chords a minor third apart and repeating descending basslines. Although Medeski was often playing interesting things on top of them, I was finding these repetitious forms exasperating. Things picked up towards the end with a piece built on repeating bass note, played both inside the piano and from the keyboard, going with and against the overtones of that repeated note. But, then came a tired trite gospel number that just deflated me. It was as if Jackson Pollack suddenly decided to paint a bowl of fruit. The encore, though, was a more satisfying inside-out jazz number. In the end, more good than bad, but one of those frustrating things where a musician you think is really great does things you just don't like.

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch” from the eponymous record by Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-o

In an attempt to force Christmas Spirit upon myself, I loaded the Christmas playlist on to the iPod, and this was the first track to come up. (Also an Either/Orchestra alum, as it happens)

The Puritan War on Christmas Was the Best War on Christmas” by Abby Ohlheiser at

If not negating the above attempt, at least making me feel a bit better about my bad attitude. No more of this Happy Holidays! crap, Happy Saturnalia everybody!

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