Jazz takes off its corset

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If places such as the Blue Note in New York City hadn't slammed their doors in the faces of three up-and-coming musicians more than 10 years ago, Medeski, Martin and Wood may never have developed the experimental sound that seems to be the future of jazz.

While jazz stayed in its corset uptown, John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood headed downtown to the fringe of the Manhattan music scene.

"We made a choice to not play in the established places," Wood said. "We toured a lot and played in little coffee houses. In those places, there was always a younger crowd, and we were a refreshing sound for them -- something they could identify with."

While at home in New York, they played at the Knitting Factory and CBGBs, where audiences were interested in hearing musicians try new things.

"It's a scene that's now centered around Tonic," Wood said. "It's a great scene to be a part of. The jazz scene is always competitive and elitist. (Downtown) there was a lot more cross-fertilization of music -- that's what you want the jazz scene to be like."

Medeski, Martin and Wood spent their formative years playing with avant-garde musicians such as John Zorn and Mark Rebo and the Lounge Lizards.

"There was Zorn and everyone around him and in his band, and we were listening and playing with all those people who could play jazz but were trying to do other things," Wood said. "That was the whole point of that scene -- to find new ways of playing your instrument, to find new sounds."

The sound that the band developed in those years isn't jazz, Wood said. "To me, jazz is the four letter word that's lost its meaning."

Instead, he calls their sound, "Medeski, Martin and Wood."

"We've been together long enough that we have a sound that sounds like us," he said.

"Nothing is planned. We start (writing a song) from nothing, and we sculpt it. All the initial thrust is just through improvising."

Though the band is in production on a new album, they haven't released any new music since "Uninvisible" in 2002. Because their current tour isn't designed to promote a latest release, MMW has the freedom to play some smaller venues across the country between now and next summer's CD.

"We're really doing a lot of this sort of thing through the winter," Wood said. "We're playing small clubs and having a lot of fun doing this in intimate settings. It's nice to play low- key places."

Since "Uninvisible," the band has been moving into a new phase of life and music.

"We've matured," Wood said. "We're getting older. We're settling down. We have families, and that changes the music. I think it gives you perspective. There is less of that kind of youthful anxiousness to be good. Instead, you just have more enjoyment in the music."

There are new challenges and stresses when you have a family, he said. "Sometimes getting away from that and getting on stage is such a relief. I don't remember feeling that when I was younger. I was more worried about impressing people."

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