The jazz fan may be confused by my statement that Medeski Martin & Wood is a jam band with traditional jazz roots. After all, isn’t jamming, or improvising, the province of traditional jazz? But in this context, jam means something else — it’s a genre. And in keeping with the jam-band mentality, Medeski Martin & Wood compositions are long repetitions of some kind of hypno groove. Everything MMW begins and ends with a New Orleans funk beat. It’s a paradigm shift away from the melodic pocket necessary to the explorations of straight-ahead jazz. Miles Davis made such paradigm shifts acceptable in the 1950s when he dumped bebop for the experiments in modality that became Birth of the Cool. Since then, every discerning, traditional jazz musician has been looking for the next new thing — with the exception of the smooth-jazz crowd, which continues to search for the next dollar.
John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Chris Wood have been together for nearly two decades. They have long been associated with the kinds of nightclubs that form the nucleus of New York’s hipster downtown, which happens to be the cornerstone of the world’s straight-ahead jazz scene. MMW is a standard keyboard-bass-and-drums arrangement, but the way they perform is a return to form of the late ’60s when jazz masters like Charles Lloyd opened for the world’s greatest jam band, the Grateful Dead. John Medeski’s pile of keyboards runs from Hammond B3 hot to cool-blue electronic riffs that sound like whales breeding, performed in the spirit of revealing that elusive next new thing. For this trio, it’s a mix of hip-hop, electronica, funk, acoustic percussion, and older traditions. Call it jazz, for lack of a better word.
MEDESKI MARTIN & WOOD: House of Blues, Wednesday, February 17, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $20.50, $35.