MMW stands for music without categories

June 17, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

In pop music these days, pigeonholes just aren't what they used to be. Take Medeski, Martin & Wood, for example. On paper, the group is a jazz trio, with John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and Chris Wood on bass. At times, they even look and sound that way, especially when Medeski turns to the grand piano and Wood sticks with his acoustic bass.

Most of the time, however, MMW (which will close the show Saturday at the Mid-Atlantic Music and Arts Festival) seems as groove-oriented and electronic as any rock act. Nor do the three have any trouble moving from one sound to another -- or to draw upon any other style or sound that piques their interest.

So is Medeski, Martin & Wood a jazz band? A rock band? A groove band? What exactly does one call this kind of music?

"I just call it Medeski, Martin and Wood music," answers Wood. "It's just three guys, and we play music. It's always changing, and a lot of our music is improvised. And depending upon what we've been influenced by lately, it's always evolving. So to put any other name on it would kind of be pointless, I think."

Wood points out that these days there are a lot of groups -- particularly those that stress improvisation -- whose music defies categorization. "The lines are getting blurred, that's for sure," he says. "There are good and bad in all different types of music, and a lot of them are crossing over, using all different influences, from Latin music to rock music, jazz, a lot of the new drum 'n' bass and hip-hop.

"There's a lot going on, and the world is shrinking. It's changing fast."

That helps explain how the trio manages to do things like segue from a Thelonious Monk be-bop number to a Bob Marley reggae tune in the course of a single jam, without seeming to have changed gears at all. But the most important element in MMW's approach isn't its eclecticism, but the group's ability to retain its sense of musical identity regardless of circumstance.

"One thing we try to do with our group is to use those modern grooves -- whether it be hip-hop or drum 'n' bass or whatever -- but to take a jazz approach to the rhythms," he says. "Meaning that they're going to be looser, more organic and more interactive with each other.

"We'll be influenced by that music, but it's going to come out in our own way. Because we're playing off of each other all of the time."

Mid-Atlantic Music and Arts Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.

Where: Infield of Timonium Racecourse, Maryland State Fairgrounds

Performers: Saturday -- Medeski, Martin & Wood, Spyro Gyra, Jimmy Cliff, Mose Allison, moe., Bobby Rush, Anders Osborne, Laura Love Band, John Mooney, Carl Filipiak, Vickie Winans, Jah Works, All Mighty Senators and others.

Sunday -- Buddy Guy, Los Lobos, Southside Johnny, the Funky Meters, Jimmie Vaughan, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shemekia Copeland, the Kelly Bell Band, Gingham Schmuz, Roy Bookbinder and others.

Tickets: In advance: $20 a day; $40 for a two-day pass. At the gate: $25 a day, $45 for a two-day pass

Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets, 410-771-4862 for information

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