The avant-jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood closed their acoustic U.S. tour Saturday with an outstanding presentation in Hollywood, offering a no-holds-barred showcase of raw individual talent that confirmed the group’s command of tag-team improvisation.
The first of two 55-minute sets opened — just as their current live album “Tonic” (Blue Note) does — with their original composition “Invocation,” a moody and provocative piece of fusion that gave each player a chance to indulge his own sense of adventure.
John Medeski alternated between thunderous attack and delicate accompaniment, and also incorporated a toy-sized piano; bassist Chris Wood played his stand-up instrument with and without a bow, as well as using it for percussion; drummer Billy Martin used every part of his modest kit and otherwise availed himself of the collection of shakers and exotic percussion at his disposal.
The listener never knows what to expect when these guys begin a song, where it will lead or what trick they’ll pull out of their collective sleeve. The set-list bore almost no resemblance to the one played in Anaheim two nights earlier, a routine that fuels a thriving bootleg biz — and this show is likely to be a classic.
The smaller of Medeski’s two main pianos gave a particularly haunted report, and was used to create a variety of soaring passages, even as Wood manipulated his bass with two bows for a most unusual sound.
Later, Martin busied himself by stick-rolling his way around his kit’s support legs, before the threesome casually dropped right into the pocket of Lee Morgan’s “Afrique.” Another highlight was a playful reading of Bud Powell’s “Buster Rides Again,” during which Medeski took fanciful liberties with the song’s melody.
Subtle dark red lighting and an unadorned stage made for a distraction-free concert. MM&W is expected to release a new electric album through Blue Note this fall.
The electric version of the group opens for the Dave Matthews Band at Blockbuster Pavilion on July 29.