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Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Juice

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For more than 20 years, Medeski Martin and Wood have thrived on remaining indefinable. Are they a jam band with jazz chops? A jazz trio following a groove-rock muse? An avant-garde soul-jazz band? That very malleability has meant that their sound is compatible with everything from jazz clubs to festival stages, and also makes them ideal collaborators. These two new releases find them working with guitarists who each seem like perfect fits in similar if wholly unique ways: Both Nels Cline and John Scofield are virtuosic shape-shifters with a penchant for infusing out-leaning jazz with rock influences, though their respective approaches-and the results on these two CDs-reveal just how far-ranging those influences can take them.

Juice is MMW’s fourth recorded collaboration with Scofield, and their partnership has evolved to the point where they sound completely relaxed and loose in each other’s presence. So relaxed, in fact, that the quartet pursues larks like having one of jazz’s most versatile guitarists tackle one of the dumbest earworms in rock history: That’s right, Scofield plays “Louie, Louie,” the familiar party-song riff opening “Juicy Lucy.” The rest of the album maintains that party atmosphere even while turning down more serious avenues. It’s breezy without being frivolous, as the quartet shows off its agility in genre after genre.

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