Medeski, Martin and Wood – Radiolarians II (2009)

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Last fall MMW kicked off the first part of their Radiolarians trilogy with Radiolarians I. Earlier this month, Part 2 came out. As with Part 1, Radiolarians II has many of the threesome’s astonishing range, sharp musicianship and unpredictability on display; it’s atypical nature makes it a typical MMW album, if you know what I mean.

That said, there’s a distinction that sets II apart from I: it’s less “jammy” and more a collection of distinct, memorable songs. The tightness translates to increased listenability but the chops don’t get the short shrift, either. While a few tunes still drift a bit (“Ijiji”), others stomp with some nasty fuzz bass of Chris Wood (“Flat Tires”) and still others herald back to the band’s loopy acoustic funk of their Gramavision days (“Junkyard”). “Chasen vs Suribachi” finds Wood playing a bowed bass over Martin’s hip-hop beat. Perhaps a bit more surprising is the straight up approach of songs like the latin-tinged piano jazz of the breezy “Padirecto” or the relaxed loungy jazz of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” with a funky little clavinet thrown in to spice it up a little bit. “Riffin’ Ed” presents some lively gospel piano by Medeski rendering one of the better melodies of the album, with that unbeatable rhythm section shuffling perfectly underneath it.

With the boys taking so many side roads of late, it’s good to see them get back to the kind of music their known for. It seemed that for a while it was hard to tell if they still had a musical identity, but no more. Radiolarians II is Medeski, Martin & Wood saying to the world “this is who we are” better than any record they’ve made since the turn of the millenium.

Radiolarians II became widely available on April 14.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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