Jazz fusion -- real fusion, the kind with teeth -- folded up camp in 1975. After seven years of leading the revolution, Miles Davis holed himself up in a New York City apartment, locked the door and proceeded to spend the next half-decade exploring his inner junkie. It was a fitting end to a turbulent movement and a far nobler move than that made by most of the genre's other pioneers. Rather than simply walking away from fusion, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and others set about tearing down the very genre they had created by churning out flaccid funk and disco jazz. By the early '80s, fusion was the explicit domain of abominations such as Spyro Gyra and the Yellowjackets. In the ensuing years, a handful of jazzbos, rockers and rappers have tried, with varying degrees of success, to reignite the fusion flame.Perhaps none has been as successful, either critically or commercially, as New York's Medeski Martin & Wood. Since joining ranks nearly a decade ago, the trio -- comprising keyboardist John Medeski, percussionist Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood -- has been thrilling both jazz and rock fans with their signature blend of jazz, funk, rock and hip-hop.
Recent releases from MMW have seen the band moving in several directions at once. Last year marked the release of Tonic, an acoustic live album culled from several performances in 1999, and The Dropper, a funky studio album that ups the hip-hop quotient from previous releases while simultaneously assuming a more avant-garde stance. In the end, though, it's always about the groove, and MMW never veers very far from it. Like the Grateful Dead -- from whose fanbase MMW draws heavily -- the trio's reputation rests on its live performances. So bring your patchouli and dancing shoes. These guys might just blow your mind.