Live: Medeski, Martin & Wood at Culture Room, November 13

Medeski, Martin & Wood 

Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale 
Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Sunday night, Fort Lauderdale native John Medeski and his partners in fusion, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, played their "last 20th anniversary show" at the Culture Room. The trio had been touring in celebration of two decades of jazzy exploration together, and the medium-sized Fort Lauderdale club was their last stop. The show had a homecoming, arrival kind of feel to it. It was a safe show. Solid through and through, but having traveled so far and made it to the last stop, the band didn't seem bent on breaking through to any new musical dimensions.

What the show may have lacked in electrifying, MMW jams, it made up for with beautiful, relaxed playing from the trio. Sometimes they string together sets of music discordant enough to dizzy the most "out there" listeners; other times, they drop beats as danceable as any you'll find; while at still other times, they offer sounds that would be welcome at a refined jazz brunch. Sunday's show was very balanced and middle-of-the-road. The band threw down some solid tunes from its calatog and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it.

The state of the venue matched the relaxed mood of the musicians. The club, which can become uncomfortably packed at times, was just full enough to make for an energized scene while leaving sufficient breathing and grooving room. The crowd was a mix of jam scenesters and jazz lovers, all enjoying a mellow evening together. The show had a fan-appreciation quality to it from the start. The band's first set was made up of songs that fans requested online. The highlight of the bunch was "Last Chance to Dance Trance," the classic from Friday Afternoon in the Universe. The number featured a beautiful drum solo from Martin. His deep rhythmic sense and delicate execution grows more spellbinding with each tour.

Before intermission, Martin promised more "freewheeling" music when upon their return. The band held true to the promise, as the second set was deeper, dirtier, and funkier than the first. Medeski's clivinet was put to much good use here, and the periods of atonal noise were stretched a bit more than in the first frame. The brain-melting tension that the trio is famous for creating with its jazz never reached the delightfully excruciating level some may have been expecting, though -- which may have been appreciated by some audience members. It seems that that which is most cherished by some MMW fans is the same thing that is most off-putting about the band to others. This was a safe show. The playing was great, though not risky. The fan favorite Hendrix cover "Crosstown Traffic" closed out what seemed to be an enjoyable night for all.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I wouldn't have minded some slightly more terrifying funk. But this was a landing-pad show, not a launch-pad show. I can dig.

Random detail: There was a lovely couple dressed in white in attendance who were rumored to be Medeski's parents.

By the way: The no-indoor-smoking policy at this show was great to see, even if it was mostly ignored.

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Travis Newbill