Instrumental near-jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood played a spectacular show at the Palace, giving new meaning to the term “smoking groove” with a wickedly inventive performance that was almost shocking for its casual execution.
The trio’s music mainly revolved around the boppin’ organ and keyboard work of John Medeski, whose nimble fingers unpredictably hopped from Hammond B3 to clavinet to piano to Wurlitzer to synthesizer. All least eight distinct keyboards were at his disposal on all four sides of him, and all got plenty of use.
In the middle, flexible bassist Chris Wood used an upright instrument, both with bow and without, and an electric jazz model to set the eclectic show’s spirited pace, while drummer Billy Martin took an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, pulling a number of jaw-dropping tricks from his percussive hat, all the while maintaining precise time.
Most of the lyric-less tunes — which incorporated elements of such disparate genres as opera, rock, jazz, soul and gospel — were taken from MMW’s last two albums, the new “Combustication” (Blue Note) and 1996’s “Shack-man” (Gramavision/Rykodisc), though few of them stayed within the lines drawn in the studio. In fact, the band took off on improvisa-tional flights even on their most familiar tracks.
The trick for the mostly male crowd was to follow the compositional inclinations of the group without becoming distracted by any one member, as many passages seemed as if all three players were doing different numbers. The best part was waiting for that groove that would reunite all three back into the song they started with.
The set’s highlight came at the end when skillful guest guitarist Marc Ribot, who also opened the show, joined the trio for a rousing version of the traditional song “Is There Anybody Here That Loves My Jesus” that drew roars from the stunned and appreciative crowd.