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Short Cuts

Medeski, Martin & Wood map out the new urban jazz.



Medeski, Martin & Wood

(Blue Note)

Miles is grinning in his grave.

If any album has come close to capturing something akin to what Miles Davis created out of the ether in the late '60s and early '70s -- such fusion crucibles as Big Fun, On the Corner, and Get Up With It -- I think Medeski, Martin & Wood's Uninvisible is probably it. And from three white boys. Crazy, ain't it?

What Davis always said he was doing at that time was channeling the cool of the New York City streets, the metasexual ecstasy of the heroin plunge. You know, the shit that makes your hair stand up and makes the squares run. And with Uninvisible, MMW have -- forgive the pun -- tapped that vein of luscious grooves punctuated by the hyperrhythmic, sometimes cacophonous approximations of the city's sounds: frenetic automobile traffic in all its noisome glory, Latin music jumping from the high windows of the barrio's apartments, funk and soul rolling out of Harlem's, the stop-and-go rush of millions of souls, and the hypnotic color of it all, the merging of it all, the trip of it all.

But absent are some of Miles' extremes -- beautifully distortion-box-crippled guitars, tornadoed riffs, time signatures lost in space, and quadruple-time drums skittering off to the asylum -- and present are turntablists (yeah!) and vocalists (uh, Colonel Bruce Hampton tells a tale, and the guy from the Crash Test Dummies hums and grunts, but I guess it's okay). Throw in flugelhorn, bass clarinet, and congas, not to mention all kinds of saxophones and guitars, and you've got as original a mix of instruments as you're likely to encounter any time soon.

With nine albums in 10 years, MMW have built themselves a nice little oeuvre. Throughout their time together, they have collectively and separately worked with artists running the musical spectrum: Iggy Pop, Cibo Matto, David Byrne, John Scofield, Bob Moses, John Zorn, Chocolate Genius, the Word, Gov't Mule, and Either/Orchestra, to name a few. It seems to have paid off. The metamorphosis of their sound is a joy to witness, since the road they take is not heavily traveled, and these guys only get cooler with every fantastic album.

And if you think you're the coolest cat around, or you just like to feel that way, this is the music to which you need to be driving through the summer nights. If it's to be classified properly, you need a limber tongue: Uninvisible is, to put it mildly, a deliriously groovy trip-trance jazz-funk fusion ... oh -- I'm so sick of these confusing, fumbling, hyphenated descriptives -- let's just call it "tripjunk" and be done with it.

Though a bit muddled, the powerful influence of Booker T. & the MGs and the Meters is still coming through in many of the tracks (especially on the title track, featuring the horns of Afro-beat band Antibalas), which is the usual on MMW albums. Medeski's organ seems to be mixed lower than Wood's bass throughout Uninvisible, so what was once organ-driven has become more bass-driven, the lower register mixed high and mighty and driving, with Martin's drums and assorted percussion falling somewhere between.

From the title track's first fat bass-riff drop into funked-up organ to the drums-and-turntable-driven "Pappy Check" to the African space walk of "Retirement Song" to the twisted dream of the six-and-a-half-minute "Nocturnal Transmission," this album charts new territory for the new urban jazz, taking its cues from hip hop and the mind of the hustler as it lays it down.

In place of DJ Logic, who's been considered the unofficial fourth member on the last few albums, are DJs Olive and P Love turning in some progressive scratching, though "Off the Table," the last tune, wouldn't suffer in the least if Olive's sampled Ping-Pong session were mercifully cut from it. It's a pretty arbitrary end to an album, formed in the free sessions of MMW's new Brooklyn studio, that otherwise comes across tight and controlled. But, hell, that's about five seconds of nearly an hour's worth of impeccable tripjunk. You know, the kind that gets up in your soul. -- Jeremy Spencer

Grade: A-

Conscious Contact

Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons


It's no surprise that -- despite his Western connections -- Jerry Joseph landed on the Atlanta-based jam label Terminus Records. Widespread Panic have been covering Joseph's "Climb To Safety" for years, and the Jackmormons have spent the last few years touring extensively with Gov't Mule, so the Southern boogie-rock connection seemed inevitable.

But Joseph's music isn't really jam-based. Even when the group cuts loose with a funky organ riff ("Little Boo's Fireworks"), they rock much harder than they roll. The Jackmormons straddle a no-man's-land on the music scene, part posturing alternative rockers, part jangling balladeers. It's a world that accomplished musicians like Tom Petty have successfully bridged. While the Jackmormons aspire to Petty's tongue-in-cheek aphorisms, they don't -- yet -- display the creativity necessary to reach that level.

Nevertheless, Conscious Contact is full of bright moments: The clever opener "Coliseum" has a catchy riff that sticks around long after the song is over; the hard-rocking "Ching-a-Ling" is tailor-made for the dance floor; and the swirling, jangling rhythms of "The Kind of Place" seem destined for heavy rotation on college radio stations nationwide. The autobiographical "Pure Life" and "The Fastest Horse In Town" show off Joseph's songwriting talents; moody and allegorical, both numbers cut deep into his soul.

Pianist Chuck Leavell (who's played with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton) and organist Randall Bramblett (Traffic) augment the Jackmormon trio on several numbers, while Vic Chestnutt holds down the backing-vocal duties on the sentimentally soulful "Your Glass Eye."

Tellingly, Conscious Contact was produced by Dave Schools (of Gov't Mule and Widespread Panic fame) and engineered by Sugar's Dave Barbe. Armed with this group of pedigreed musicians, Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons are well on their way, and Conscious Contact is a decent start.

-- Andria Lisle

Grade: B

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons will be at the Young Avenue Deli on Thursday, April 25th, with Mofro.

Project Human



From the title of Dieselboy's latest mix CD, you might think he was dropping the squelching-robot textures and overdriven bass splotches of its predecessors in favor of some old-fashioned blood, sweat, and grit. No such luck. The Pittsburgh drum-n-bass DJ is dropping tracks as dank and growly faced as ever. Project Human is cleaner-lined than 2000's The 6ixth Session, but for the most part it's missing the earlier set's intimations of a possible revival within drum-n-bass of old-school rave's giddy sense of possibility.

That doesn't mean the disc is entirely devoid of fun, from Dylan + Ink's jumpy "California Curse (Technical Itch Remix)," whose N.W.A. samples give it some fun, to Kernal + Rob Data's "Hostile," whose super-speedy percussion starts resembling log drums. And the woozy, dizzying filtered drums on Robbie Rivera's "Harder and Faster (Weapon vs. E-Sassin Remix)" hearken to the way The 6ixth Session rode the cusp between drum-n-bass and Goa (or psychedelic) trance. But too often the disc's mood is monochromatic: Drum-n-bass used to be a big kaleidoscope of emotion; now it's mostly just dark and scary, and, as a result, fairly boring.

-- Michaelangelo Matos

Grade: B-

Dieselboy will spin at Headliners on Saturday, April 27th.

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