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“When we get together, something happens,” reflects keyboardist John Medeski on the ever-evolving, genre-defying collaboration between influential trio Medeski Martin & Wood and maverick guitarist John Scofield. “It's a thing of its own, with undeniable chemistry.”
“I've played so much with them over the years that I'm comfortable,” Scofield adds, “but, at the same time, we don't actually get to play all that often – so it's always fresh.”
Whether embroiled in a fierce, knotted groove or talking history, literature, or music in the hours before and after shows, the bonhomie between these four committed improvisers fuels a musical dynamic that is at once foot-tappingly simple and deeply, powerfully resonant. Since first convening nearly 17 years ago, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood's kinship both onstage and off has fostered a continually escalating degree of musical interplay, exquisitely captured on their third studio collaboration, Juice. “For us,” Medeski explains, “a lot of what makes this work stems from our relationship outside the music. This is our life, and that's important.”
With four multi-faceted musicians participating as equals, anything and everything is possible. The band’s first collaboration together, the now classic 1997 release, A Go Go, featured Scofield compositions exclusively, while 2006's Out Louder was an experiment in spontaneous, collective co-composition. To give shape to what eventually became Juice, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood sought common ground and inspiration in the intersection of improvisation and rhythms from the Afro-Latin diaspora. “Billy Martin made us a compilation of all this boogaloo and Latin music to inspire us,” Medeski recalls. “We all love music from Brazil, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and it has always been intertwined with jazz. We got together and started exploring that connection in our own way.”
“It's our version of different African-derived forms,” says Scofield. “Or, at least, that's what we started with...eventually we said, 'This is the outline, but we can do whatever the hell we want.'”
“When you go into the studio and start fleshing things out in the moment,” Martin adds, “you have to celebrate the collective sum of the parts at work.”
From start to finish, Juice is compelling evidence of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood's ability to refract basic musical elements into soundscapes of kaleidoscopic complexity – which are nevertheless listenable, danceable, and refreshing in their spontaneity. “This album was so easy to make,” Medeski summarizes. “It was so much fun, and everything fell into place so naturally. Even though we each brought things in, it took on a life of its own”
“Reacting to each other is really what it's about,” says Scofield, “and that's what makes this music work. We've gotten to the point where we can come together and make something that is identifiable and organic, yet it's growing and changing all the time.”
“As a band,” Martin concludes, “we are right where we should be.”