Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23: Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood, "Miles Behind"

Artist: Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood
Song: "Miles Behind"
Album: Out Louder
Year: 2006

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Though the mainstream popularity of the jazz genre is certainly not what is was during the 1950's, the spirit behind the music, and the high level of creativity still stands strong in modern times. As the decades have passed, new technology and new styles of music have helped to push the jazz genre into new territory, and there are countless artists who seem to never be satisfied with the status quo of jazz music. Along with this constant quest for a new style, the idea of collaboration with other jazz greats has stayed remained strong, and this helps to create some of the most exciting and original records in the current music scene. Without question, one of the most intriguing jazz collaborations of the modern era occurred in 1997, when the jazz-fusion trio, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, essentially became the backing band for John Scofield's record, A Go-Go. The album was nothing short of brilliant, yet it took nearly a decade for the quartet to again enter the studio, and the resulting record was 2006's Out Louder. A far more collaborative effort, Out Louder is without question one of the most creative records of the modern era, and nearly every song on the album is worth experiencing. However, taking a far more upbeat and aggressive approach than anything they had previously done together, and unlike anything else in jazz at the time, the true genius of Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood comes on the stunning composition, "Miles Behind."

The song itself is unquestionably a nod to the great Miles Davis (minus the trumpet), as the style and spirit of Davis shine through. Sometimes the sound even borders on a heavy metal sound, as it is without question one of the most aggressive and powerful jazz tracks ever recorded. The song serves as notice that Out Louder will be unlike any other jazz record, and it solidifies the fact that this quartet has a chemistry far greater than nearly any other jazz collaboration in history. Master percussionist Billy Martin plays absolutely out of his mind on "Miles Behind," as he files through the songs' high speed pace. Though the pace is very speedy, Martin proves his talent by throwing in a wide range of fills and styles, and his performance stands as one of the finest drumming pieces ever recorded. The balance between the sound of the four musicians is the key to the success of the songs, and when one listens to the bass, this becomes immediately clear. The other half of the rhythm section, bassist Chris Wood, performs equally as well, as he flies all over the fret-board. The fact that Wood is not buried in the mix as most are within the rock and even jazz genre was clearly a conscious move, and the overall sound is nothing short of stunning, as there is even a point where it sounds as if the group is borrowing a progression from Phish's "Down With Disease." "Miles Behind" also serves as clear proof that the team of Martin and Wood are without question one of the finest jazz rhythm sections in history.

Providing one of the wildest and most mesmerizing melodies in the history of jazz music, the pairing of John Scofield's guitar and the organ playing of John Medeski stands as one of the finest jazz pairings in history. There is perhaps no clearer example of how different "Miles Behind" is from anything else in jazz then when one compares Scofield's performance here to anything else in his massive recorded catalog. Though his trademark guitar tone remains intact, Scofield has never played so aggressively, yet even with this heavier approach, the style of jazz, and Scofield's personal touch are never lost. Truth be told, there are countless moments on the song where it seems that Scofield is about to jump into an all-out rock shred, but the fact that the entire group is able to walk that line is the true magic of the song. Playing at an almost unfathomable speed, John Medeski has rarely sounded as brilliant as he does on "Miles Behind." With absolutely mind-blowing solo moments, as well as some of the most powerful chord progressions ever recorded, there has simply never been anything similar to the display of talent and creativity that is shown here from Medeski. While all four musicians clearly share a spirit, it is also unquestionable that the link between Scofield and Medeski is where the true magic lies, and the way in which the two play off one another serves as a musical testament to their place as one of jazz music's finest duos.

Throughout the entire history of jazz music, the idea of giving the style a modern twist, and never staying in the same sound long served as two of the most important elements. Within the modern music scene, jazz has taken a back seat to more rock and pop based music, yet these two elements still stand strong and enable the genre to produce some of the most original and interesting music in modern times. As one of the finest jazz guitarists in the world, John Scofield has solidified his legend in the genre, making some of the most unique and stunning albums over the past thirty years. Similarly, the fusion trio of Medeski, Martin, and Wood have put their own stamp on jazz music, and remain one of the most consistent and creative forces in modern music. Seeming t pick up exactly where they left off nearly a decade earlier, the collaborative effort between the four, 2006's Out Louder, is without question one of the most musically exciting records in recent history. While the album is filled with fantastic songs, none quite compare to the groups' nod to Scofield's former employer, Miles Davis, on the scorching composition, "Miles Behind." With a pace and tone that borders on hard rock or even heavy metal, each group member performs like never before, and the chemistry between these four is clearly beyond that of nearly any other jazz grouping in history. Standing as one of the most impressive and most accessible jazz recordings of the modern era, to truly understand and appreciate the genius behind Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood's "Miles Behind," one must experience it firsthand.

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