Trio of Life 

Improvisation reaches new heights with Medeski, Martin & Wood

When he was a boy, Chris Wood’s eyes were often pointed toward the heavens. His dream of becoming an astronomer never materialized. Regrets? He has few. Some would say that Wood is living a different sort of dream as the bass player of Medeski, Martin & Wood, one of the best young improvisational bands around.

In this era of the global musical melting pot, the classification of a band using “a mix of many different musical styles” has become a genre of its own. In MMW’s case, suffice it to say that these fellas play a modern form of jazz influenced by musical styles from hip-hop to world music.

With eight albums (plus a greatest hits and two dance-remix EPs) and nearly 10 years on the road under their belts, Medeski, Martin & Wood are finally ready to make their Montana debuts.

“We’ve driven through plenty of times on our way to other gigs,” Wood says, the day before the band began their spring tour of 24 shows. The trio will play in Bozeman the night before unveiling their act in Missoula.

What you’ll see when they take the University Theater stage is Chris Wood working furiously on the stand-up bass, Billy Martin keeping the backbeat on drums, and John Medeski generating a wall of sound on keyboards. What you’ll hear is different from anything anyone has ever heard or will ever hear again.

“Ultimately, everything we play is always improvisational,” Wood says. “Even if we’re playing a tune that we’ve played many times, it’s still fresh and new.”

A fascination with growth and wonder seems to be at the heart of the MMW experience, he adds.

“We’ve gone through a very organic progression,” explains Wood. “We’ve grown like a tree, I guess. I had no idea what was going to come of this when we started. I just knew that the chemistry felt right. The three of us fit together very well.”

Before joining together in 1991, each of the three had comfortable existences as sidemen in other touring bands.

“That was how musicians like us got paid. For us to get together and tour the U.S. in a van like a rock band took a serious leap of faith,” he says. “We just did it because it was fun. We wanted to drive down south where the weather was warm.”

But while their music has been consistently well-received, the touring life has not always been sweetness and light for the members of MMW.

“I think that every band reaches the point where you either commit to the band fully or you hit a wall that you can’t get past,” Wood says, noting it took four years for his band to reach that juncture. “We reached that point and we worked it out. We made a commitment like a family. Like a marriage.”

For those who have seen Medeski, Martin & Wood’s live act, it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that the three are as close as you can get to a musical match made in heaven.

Medeski, Martin & Wood will play at the University Theatre on Tuesday, April 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21 in advance and $23 at the door, and are available from all TIC-IT-EZ outlets.

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