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Medeski Martin & Wood with Alarm Will Sound: Omnisphere (Indirecto)

Review of collaboration between eclectic trio and new-music ensemble

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Cover of Omnisphere album by Medeski Martin & Wood with Alarm Will Sound
Cover of Omnisphere album by Medeski Martin & Wood with Alarm Will Sound

On the provocative Omnisphere, recorded live in 2015, Medeski Martin & Wood venture into contemporary classical music, with the help of 20-piece chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound. The ambitious program offers a mix of compositions penned by musicians from both ensembles, starting with the suite-like “Kid Tao Mammal (unworldliness weirdo),” by AWS percussionist Payton MacDonald. Leapfrogging brass and woodwind lines are followed by John Medeski’s trippy electric-piano declarations, wide-open chiming, violin and clarinet statements intermingled with bassist Chris Wood’s upright interjections, Billy Martin’s extended trap-kit buildup, and finally a furious, rapidly intensifying statement of the initial theme.

MMW revisits its 2004 album End of the World Party (Just in Case) with new versions of two pieces. The moody “Anonymous Skulls,” arranged by AWS violinist Courtney Orlando, thrives on a spooky theme played over pulsing rhythms before settling into the kind of laid-back rubbery groove, with rambunctious organ, that’s long been MMW’s calling card. That 14-year-old album’s title track, arranged by cellist Stefan Freund and juiced with electric piano, acoustic bass, and vocal chants, comes off as old-school soul with strings.

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