John Medeski is definitely not a physicist. Still, the 41-year-old pianist has his own convincing theory of nature: "Everything is vibration and sound. If the vibration is good, it resounds in the universe."
One-third of the famed Jazz trio Medeski, Martin, & Wood (MMW), Medeski was eager to describe what matters most in a recent phoner with Street from his home in upstate New York: "Music is a beautiful, powerful thing.. It's a healing force. It taps into an energy beyond the surface.. Music is not a business, it's a basic human need."
Medeski's most recent undertaking is Out Louder, the second collaboration between his trio and Jazz guitar giant John Scofield. Released on MMW's own label, Indirecto Records, Out Louder was recorded at Shacklyn Studios in Brooklyn. "[Shacklyn] is MMW's little, sort of bat-cave," Medeski explained. "It's very bootleg.. Sometimes you have to wait until people stop making noise upstairs - it's not a refined studio, so you have to work with the space and feel comfortable in there."
Recording in under a week's time, it's clear that Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood have a natural musical compatibility. "We're looking for that vibe, we want the take that has the certain feeling that we're looking for," Medeski considers. "It's pretty funny that almost hands-down the first take of every song was the best."
Medeski rejoiced in playing with John Scofield. "He's a great musician and we have a lot of common ground in our music. Not everybody can sit with us and it works." Scofield's similarly purist style meshes well with MMW. "As much as he is an incredibly accomplished musician, he does not go back and nit-pick and re-do solos.. He's like us, he really likes the raw deal."
After they opened for Phish in 1996, many considered MMW a jam band, but as Out Louder makes clear, the group transcends these labels. Half-jokingly, Medeski imparts a self-proclaimed genre: "We call it homeless music. We're just on the fringe of many scenes, the music is just homeless." Similarly, Medeski doesn't cater to anything but the music itself, declaring that "the preconceived stuff of playing to this audience or that audience will kill you.. A lot of audiences want to hear the same old stuff they've heard a billion times. That's not what we're into. We are into music of the moment."
Medeski, who has been playing jazz piano since he was 12, is constantly working with other musicians. "That's how I grow, through new musical challenges." Medeski has had his fair share of opportunities to play with others: his list includes bassist Jaco Pastorius, drummer Bob Moses, singer Susanna Baca and the steel-guitar group Campbell Brothers. Humbly, he adds, "I've been really lucky, it really has been a treat."
And despite the side-projects and solo work, MMW is a staple he can return to. But then again, 'staple' might not do justice to the relentlessly inventive trio. "We're all growing, it's not stagnant at all." Musically, Medeski does not want to have it down to a science. "I'm not sure of anything," he muses, considering what makes music successful. "There is a certain feeling, when it happens - you know it." But he definitely has his methods polished.
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood will perform on Saturday, November 11 at the Electric Factory (421 N. 7th Street).