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Medeski, Martin & Wood :: Radiolarians II [Review]

(As published in The Racquette Newspaper)

Radiolarians II is Medeski, Martin & Wood’s second album in the trilogy released on their own label, Indirecto Records. This is also their second studio album in seven months. The organ trio decided they wanted to set an example for how they think albums should be released by touring with the music before taking it into a recording studio. The result is a carefully molded album of tried and tested music that has been heard by the outside world in a live context.

The trio doesn’t disappoint with Radiolarians II. The album, like the first in the trilogy, has ten tracks. The first track, “Flat Tires,” hits you in the face with a rocking, overdriven electric bass line. Bassist Chris Wood is soon joined by his partners in crime, Billy Martin and John Medeski. Medeski lays down a frightening chordal progression on the organ while Martin explores every sound capable of being produced on his drum set. 

“Junkyard” begins with a slow, eerie organ intro. A groove is established and bass and drums join in with an abrasive texture. “Junkyard” and “Padirecto” are prime examples of the textured grooves often found in the music of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Both are full of space without feeling empty. The trio uses a variety of techniques to build upon the original ostinato and transition throughout the song. 

“Ijiji” is certainly not a song for the musical faint-of-heart. What starts as a free form groove becomes a complicated jumble of free-jazz. The roomy wash of reverberated sound is reminiscent of tracks off of the Miles Davis album Bitches Brew.

“Riffin’ Ed” is a bluesy piano tune with obvious New Orleans jazz influences. “Amber Gris” is based around a piano motif in six. Drummer Billy Martin plays with the meter by phrasing the bar of six in different ways and almost ignoring barlines altogether at some points. 

As credited on the inside of the CD jacket, Billy Martin makes use of a transistor radio during “Chasen vs Suribachi.” The track is similar to a 1950’s TV dinner gone wrong. It’s an overall assault on the senses as you try to understand what’s actually happening. This isn’t anything too new for Medeski, Martin & Wood, who often go off on complex, tangential musical journeys. 

“Dollar Pants” is an upbeat, incidental song. It could easily be found in soundtrack for a city scene whereas “Amish Pinxtos,” reverts to the driving grooves found earlier in the album. The album ends with the blues ballad, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” 

Overall, the album is by no means a step in a new direction for the group but most listeners would agree that that’s a good thing. MMW consistently creates music with their recognizable voice without recycling the same ideas.

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