Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice (2014)

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When John Scofield had his first meeting with Medeski, Martin & Wood for Scofield’s milestone funk-jazz A Go Go LP from ’97, it was, in retrospect, scratching only the surface of what was possible between two immensely talented and outward-looking acts. That record reflected Sco’s return to funk-jazz that marked much of his 80’s output and MMW enabled him to do that but in a new way.

It was another nine years before Out Louder appeared but in this instance, the quartet became a democracy and not a vehicle for the guitarist. The experimental, wildly improv nature of that album leaned more on Medeski, Martin & Wood’s side than Scofield’s, but Scofield knew just how to fit into their aesthetic. That became even clearer with the live souvenir In Case The World Changes Its Mind, collected from stops on their Out Louder tour and released five years later.

But none of these records were expressly building up to Juice, their newest encounter appearing in stores September 16, 2014 from Indirecto Records. While funk-jazz music sets the guidelines for the foursome they use each meeting as an opportunity to find a new way to skin that cat, and here is no exception. Most everyone brought tunes into the studio and they borrowed four from others, all imbued with a Latin feel from the Caribbean all the way down to Brazil. All the same, they kept the parameters shoved out far, too far to strictly call this a Latin-jazz record.

So, Billy Martin’s “Louis The Shoplifter” is anchored by his precise, Afro-Cuban rhythms, but the chord changes alongside it is blues based, and effortlessly so. Boogaloos pop up in several places, but melody never takes a back seat to it, such as with Scofield’s signature progressions found on “North London.” On there and elsewhere, he plays as relaxed and unencumbered as he’s ever been, clearly at ease with his erstwhile compadres.

Eddie Harris’ “Sham Time” already fits the vibe they were looking for, and Medeski’s organ greases it up nicely. Wood’s harmonically complex “Helium” goes against the grain of these mostly uncomplicated grooves, but Martin’s Latin backbeat assures us they hadn’t really strayed from their mission. And dig Medeski’s bellowing B-3 organ on the group-composed salsa “Juicy Lucy.”

The most extended jam is saved for a trippy reggae version of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” while “Light My Fire” is more easily recognizable with Medeski on piano until he switches to organ and temporarily sends the song into a psychedelic direction. Scofield’s growling blues-rock licks offer a rowdier counterpoint to his refined jazzy side in conjuring up the original swagger of The Doors’ hit song.

The album lands softly with a simmering gospel take on Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing,” completing the coverage of a quartet of songs from the 60s.

Using Afro-Latin styles as a starting point but ending up wherever the songs took them means that the improvisational zeitgeist carries over intact from their prior collaborations. But in finding new ways to create on the spot, Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood manage to recreate the freshness of their occasional partnership, and Juice is about a prominent acid jazz trio and an elite jazz guitarist discovering each other all over again.

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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron

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