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Medeski, Martin & Wood: Note Bleu

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For their forthcoming project Medeski, Martin & Wood plan to reunite with guitarist John Scofield. The recording, a sequel to Scofield’s excellent A Go Go, won’t be on Blue Note, MMW’s label since the mid-’90s; it should be on the trio’s new, independent label. Not surprisingly, Blue Note marks the occasion with Note Bleu, a best-of compilation that collects tracks from MMW’s six Blue Note releases.

Note Bleu draws predominantly from the electrified MMW releases Combustication, Uninvisible, The Dropper and End of the World Party, plus one tune off Combustication Remix EP and one from the live, acoustic Tonic. It’s a perfectly decent cross-section of the band’s Blue Note work, but it’s no substitute for the highly creative individual recordings-especially the four best represented here. Sure, you can have the “Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho” remix on the same disc as the horn-powered title track from Uninvisible, but know that you’d be exchanging the sonic coherence and consistent quality of the original recordings for a dubious pleasure. Even new listeners would be better served by starting with one of these four. Go buy Combustication.

Blue Note targets longtime fans with a deluxe version of this release, which features a performance DVD and three additional tracks.

The pianist John Medeski is young enough to have taped episodes of Marion McPartland’s familiar NPR show Piano Jazz as a kid. When he joined McPartland in the studio in 2003, Medeski played the snickering albeit respectful fortysomething kid. He makes a few comments and references that McPartland doesn’t seem to catch, but for the most part he sticks to her classic piano-jazz turf. They talk very little about Medeski, Martin & Wood and quite a bit about Tatum, Monk and Ellington, even playing a few tunes from the latter two. In response, Medeski plays in a richer, more romantic style than his work with MMW allows. McPartland still plays very well, of course. Her solo rendition of her own composition “Threnody” is a highlight. The two play a quick throwaway free improvisation and then end with a clunky run through “Bubble House” from MMW’s Shack-Man.