While keyboardist John Medeski is the ordinal frontman and featured soloist in Medeski, Martin & Wood – and bassist Chris Wood, oddly, has turned out to be the group’s pop star of sorts – it was drummer Billy Martin who built the now-heavily-trafficked bridge between jazz fusion and jam. In fact, on a scale commensurate with his band’s and his genre’s popularity, Martin is one of those John Bonham or Stewart Copeland figures: a drummer who changed the way that it’s done, the kind of drummer that other players in the style had to answer to in their playing, yea or nay. Artfully minimalistic by comparison with his jazz/fusion forbears and more sleazy and New Orleans-funky than anything that the jam scene had heard before, Martin is certainly among the most influential and imitated players of his era.
Martin’s new project, a duet with organist Wil Blades, is hardly a radical departure from the Medeski, Martin & Wood sound, but at its core is a kind of soul affirmation. This duo steers clear of the squawky avant-garde curios that MM&W so adore, and goes for a more traditional soul/jazz pocket. Martin’s bawdy playing on the Martin/Blades disc Shimmy is at times reminiscent of jazz drummer Bill Stewart, who, like Martin, plays often with guitarist John Scofield.
If a drums/organ duo sounds a little spare for your tastes, I recommend checking out this surprisingly big and lush recording – or, even better, going to see Martin and Blades at the Colony Café this Saturday, July 7. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. The Colony Café is located at 22 Rock City Road in Woodstock. For more information, call (845) 679- 5342 or log on to https://colonycafewoodstock.com.