On Medeski, Martin and Wood's new record, The Dropper
, it seems the only member who hasn't gone totally nuts is drummer Billy Martin, who at least attempts to wrap straitjackets around keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Chris Wood. Sure, Martin nails some freaky drum patterns and goes insane from time to time, but it's him who keeps the Haldol pumping while the others get all bipolar on their instruments. But the seeming fact that MMW's going nuts isn't a bad thing. They could have coasted the groove highway for the rest of their lives and earned a decent living by appealing to the wing of the jam-band contingency that's got a hankering for something other than "tasty riffs," the wing that appreciates the history of funk and jazz. They could have dropped groove after groove and moved the floppy-armed hippies nonstop, because the trio can harness the power of the combustible three-piece better than anyone in any genre alive and touring today. But, ever the New Yorkers, they stretch on The Dropper
until they nearly snap, and the result is phenomenal; they move from the ever-present breakbeat jazz-funk to a downtown jazz flava to way, way out-there Varese-style experimentation and add guitar hero Marc Ribot smack-dab in the middle of the record for some Tom Waitsian grime. Medeski's particularly compelling in his style, banging on keyboards with a precise recklessness, and he expands his keyboard army by, it seems, dozens of instruments. Add a dose of fallen-angel violins and countless pounding grooves, and you've got the weirdest record of MMW's impressive career, which bodes well for their Pageant debut. Expect the unifiers among the improv community to pack the place, and expect nothing less than a journey.