Medeski Martin and Wood - Radiolarians 1 CD

Though they've spawned a litany of imitators over the span of their lengthy career, there's no mistaking the sound of MMW.
Their latest album, Radiolarians 1, sneaks right into the listeners ears, assuming the role of life's soundtrack as if it had always been there, taking a comfortable spot right next to the rest of their huge body of work. You can hear hints of every phase of the unstoppable trio's existence throughout Radiolarians 1: the playfulness and depth of their recent works, from kid's albums to radical Jewish music; the wild electronic experiments of the early 00's; the fractured funk of the late 90's; and the overtly talented gift for inventive complex composition that first surfaced at the start of their journey.

The trio displays their trademark musical schizophrenia from the start, as the first track, "First Light," encompasses everything from mind-altering melodies to barely audible hums. "Cloud Wars" writhes in familiar MMW madness, as a beefy hook appears sporadically among waves of frantic improvisation, and "Muchas Gracias" mines John Medeski's always-welcome stash of melodica melodies, placing the eerie tones of the instrument (along with some unexpected acoustic guitar) over a subdued bed of rumbling rhythm from Chris Wood and Billy Martin. "Reliquary" tries melding a bunch of different ideas, with chaotic bass lines dragging your brain along crowded streets, drums pounding the pavement, and a subversive piano-playing passerby guiding the whole demented tour.

For all their improvisational and space-jazz bluster, MMW can't fight the original funk that flows through their veins. The funky heat of "Professor Nohair" brings some New Orleans piano bubbling to the top of the band's broth, and will no doubt be a favorite track of the masses. "Free Go Lily" is classic MMW, with Martin's tick-tocking drums, Wood's propulsive bass, and Medeski's attempts at playing every single one of his keyboards leading to a clavinet-laced funk foray that rivals any they've ever produced - complete with an oh-so familiar piano and bass breakdown near the end. "Sweet Pea Dreams" is a downright joyous track that blends the edges of gospel, funk, and second-line shuffles, making for an impressive track, maybe the best on the album.

Resounding new-yet-familiar moments like the "Free Go Lily" ending, the creepy monsters vs. aliens vibe of "Rolling Son," and the all-encompassing "God Fire" will make Radiolarians 1 a new classic among the jam-jazz set. What's more is that there are 2 more editions of the Radiolarians series scheduled, ensuring that we will continue to enjoy MMW's amoebic protozoa for years to come.

-Bryan Rodgers