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CD Reviews: The Woodstock Sessions Vol.2 

Medeski, Martin & Wood + Nels Cline.

click to enlarge cd_mmw_nels_cline.jpg

Woodstock, New York, is legendary for its musical associations. The Woodstock Sessions series honors that legacy by documenting high-quality performances recorded live at the town's Applehead Studio. For the latest volume in the series, homeboys John Medeski and Chris Wood join drummer Billy Martin and guitarist Nels Cline with surprising results. The Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 (volume one features the Alan Evans Trio) is probably the last thing anyone would have expected from Medeski, Martin & Wood. The jam-band/jazz trio has made a career out of adventurous, yet listener-friendly, grooves. They've proven themselves more than willing to collaborate with other artists, pushing themselves outside their comfort zones. But they've never done anything like this.

For their collaboration with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, the trio has graduated to a whole new level. Cline is one of the greatest guitarists alive and, of course, he's worn a lot of different hats long before he joined Wilco in 2010. He's long practiced avant-garde jazz. But it's surprising how far out he goes on this album, and how well MMW keep up. Each of the album's nine tracks was recorded live in the studio before an audience. The music is a mind-blowing mix of spaced-out psychedelia, grooving jams, and industrial noise. Just to name one highlight, "Los Blank" evokes the Miles Davis live albums of the early '70s (think Live at Filmore), featuring tempo changes, liquid bass, galactic keyboard effects, and an extended playing time that allows the band plenty of room to stretch out. Be warned: If you like your jazz conventionally pretty, here be monsters. But if you like your envelopes pushed, you'll find a lot to explore and enjoy.

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