The Jazz.com Blog
October 08, 2008 · 0 comments
Some kids have make-believe friends, and I've even heard of a grown-up who claimed a close acquaintance with a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall rabbit. But jazz.com’s Walter Kolosky is the only person I know who has an imaginary CD collection. Below he offers another installment in his reviews of CDs that may be too good—or at least, too strange—to be true.T.G.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is out for the year ruining many fantasy football players’ seasons before they even began. But there is good news. I am back with another fantasy jazz band review. If you don’t know or don’t remember the drill—here it is: I put together fantasy jazz bands. The members of these bands may be alive or dead. I give them music to play, and then I review the results as if I were a jazz reviewer from the time period of the fantasy recording. You may not be in line to have a good fantasy football season this year, but you will always have fantasy jazz to fall back on.
REVIEW: MEDESKI-HELBORG-KRUPA: THREE BY THREE
The hottest jam-band in the country these days is undoubtedly MHK. Unless you have been living in a cave the past year, you know MHK is John Medeski on B-3 Organ, Jonas Hellborg on bass and Gene Krupa on drums. This unit is filling college gymnasiums from Boston to San Francisco on its seemingly non-ending quest to have every jam-band fanatic in the country get a chance to see and hear the band at least once.
MHK has taken the jam-band scene into the stratosphere with its blistering runs of improvised jazz-rock and spacey world music, as well as its “taking the music to the people” attitude. The band has been very accessible to the local media across the country as well, building up a lot of goodwill. MHK makes it a point to reach out to music journalists and has eschewed the normal routes of promotion. “The band wanted more freedom to do what it wanted. We formed our own label and we handle our own PR. Giving interviews doesn’t cost us anything. We don’t spend one dime on promotion. It’s all about connecting with our fans in a more direct way,” says Krupa, the mop-headed drummer. To that end the group frequently promotes its music by posting performances on YouTube and other major video sharing sites.
In the long run, it will be the music that counts and MHK is all over it. Both Medeski and the Swede Hellborg are amazing soloists and improvisers. Medeski’s B-3 growls and grinds its way to one infectious groove after another. Medeski’s been mining this vein for some time. But, his decision to play with two of the more exciting jazz players out there has him displaying even more of his chops. Hellborg’s mastery of the fret board is exhibited in almost every phrase he plays. These days he’s bending his notes and shaping his lines as if he has a train ticket to Bombay in his back pocket.
Hellborg lets Medeski handle the jazz lines while he rocks. From time to time both players will double-up and run two bass lines at once, creating a particularly hypnotic bottom. Krupa is an absolute madman. (And they say the girls love him even if they don’t always dig the music.) His sticks are quick but heavy. He simply mistreats his bass drum.
MHK exposes three tunes (hence the album title) to its virtuosity. Two pieces, “The Underworld” and “Slap Happy” are group compositions, as if to emphasize the improvisational aspect of the band. MHK also covers, in the loosest sense, Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
“The Underworld” is a dark, murky and brooding piece that turns into a funk de force before our very ears. Medeski touches only the black keys located to his left. Hellborg handles the main theme that is somewhat reminiscent of Weather Report’s “Mr. Gone.” A frenetic Krupa kicks off the funk section of the piece. The tune maintains a low-boil for several choruses before incendiary ingredients are added. Both the players and listeners are drained when the last note dies.
Hellborg is quite well known for his bass-slapping technique. He didn’t invent this style. But his integration of it along with his amazing chord playing provides an ongoing contrast that sets him apart from 99.95% of his contemporaries. “Slap Happy” is an affirmation of this reputation. Hellborg slaps, bangs and cajoles his bass through the head of the arrangement. A surprising Eastern melody emerges above the cacophony, aided by Medeski’s staccato chords which seem to be created by some slapping of his own. A rousing three-way call and response develops into a frenzy of notes and heavy rhythms that MHK tries to fit into a box much too small.
MHK’s take on “A Love Supreme” is bizarre, to say the least. Medeski quotes from about five different Coltrane pieces. There is an abrupt change in direction in the piece when Medeski plays a few bars of “Mr. P.C.” Despite my best efforts, this reviewer could not find any quotes or chord changes that resembled anything I ever heard in Coltrane’s original “A Love Supreme” or any of its tangential themes.
Three by Three is an hour of some of the most exciting music produced by one of the most creative bands on the scene today. If you hear that MHK is coming to a neighborhood near yours, and you will, you owe it to yourself to go check the group out.
Three by Three: The Underworld; Slap Happy; A Love Supreme Personnel: John Medeski, B-3 organ; Jonas Hellborg, electric bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky.