John Medeski – A Different Time
(Okeh 88765444462. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
Over the last twenty years, New York based Medeski Martin & Wood have gained a reputation for producing groundbreaking and experimental jazz-funk fusion, characterised by driving, Hammond-led grooves. It is therefore something of a culture shift to discover a new, highly contemplative solo piano release from the trio’s keyboardist, John Medeski.
A late night studio recording from a converted 19th Century church, ‘A Different Time’ requires some understanding of its background to fully appreciate a programme which, though placed in the jazz genre, almost defies categorisation. This is not the pumped-up freeway jazz that previous experience would suggest, but rather a very personal series of improvisations and compositions which require an almost meditative state of mind, illuminated well by Medeski’s own sleeve notes:
“I only hope that this recording can be listened to late in the night, when social responsibilities are over, when the political questions of the day have been dealt with, when all gossip has come to an end, when all needs and wants have been put to momentary rest….”
The choice of keyboard here is intriguing, too; a 1920s French Gaveau which requires Medeski to re-think his approach to the keyboard – a lighter touch and an awareness of its different dynamic capabilities. The raw timbre of this instrument is brought out through sensitive microphone techniques which, pleasantly, also reveal the idiosyncratic creakings of the pedal mechanism and the low thuds of the heavier keying – all adding appropriate charm to music presented very openly and honestly.
Initiating us straight away into Medeski’s elevated state of calm, the opening title track leads to a sparse, wistful interpretation of Willie Nelson’s ‘I’m Falling in Love’. The spiritual ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ has an appealingly unconstrained and intimate delivery, as if organically blossoming for the very first time. ‘Graveyard Fields’ suggests an Eastern influence with high register, koto-like descending motifs, followed by the beautiful serenity of ‘Luz Marina’ (Satie not far away). The miniature, ‘Waiting at the Gate’, hints at the charm of a familiar hymn or gospel tune, whilst ‘Lacrima’, as it’s title suggests, offers a bitter-sweet interlude. Finally, this restlessness is gradually transformed into the reassuring and luscious, jazz-hued ‘Otis’.
The delicate introspection of Medeski’s solo performance on this elegant piano unfurls slowly, rewarding open ears with the opportunity to become lost in this sensory, abstract ‘different time’.