Medeski, Martin & Wood
have been incorporating seemingly every corner of the musical universe, from funk to gospel to progressive sambas, into their sound for some time now, so it should come as no surprise that Radiolarians 1, the first of three planned and linked releases for the group in 2008, is all over the map, from country funk to sweet piano jazz, and that it coheres (since there are occasions when the band overloads and overreaches, although that isn't the case here) is really good news for their many admirers and fans. With a bright, and at times even sunny and joyous, sound, this first of the planned trilogy is a complete delight, moving from thundering fusion funk grooves to delicate atmospherics in the blink of an eye, and it shows the tight, detailed connection keyboardist John Medeski
, drummer Billy Martin
, and bassist Chris Wood
have with each other. There's so much to like here, including the gut-bucket soul-jazz bounce of "Sweet Pea Dreams," the spooky atmospherics of "Muchas Gracias" (which sounds like Augustus Pablo
thrown in a dub blender with Thelonious Monk
), the skewed, New Orleans piano of "Professor Nohair," and the deliciously fractured and delightful turn the trio takes on the traditional "Free Go Lily." It's all joyous and filled with graceful touches of humor and elegance, all the while churning to both big and little grooves, stomping, skating and skipping lightly by turns, and it reminds just how remarkably well these three musicians work together, making, as they say, improvisation fun again.