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Chris Wood - "as intense and bluesy as Charles Mingus?"

Medeski, Martin and Wood - in short: "MMW" - for several reasons have been called "the first boy-group in Jazz". The most significant fact in this context is that their live performances are not confined to jazz clubs and that their audience mostly consists of young people. MMW combines Rock and free improvisational music and they play it loud and enthusiastically.

The role of MMW´s bassplayer Chris Wood may be a most trying one - he has to play his acoustic or electric bass rather aggressive with an intense bodily effort to cut through - but usually Medeski and Martin are still louder ...

In contrast to this - as bassplayers use to be nice people, at the same time sensible and self-conscious, this is also the case with Chris - before MMW´s concert at the Tränenpalast, Berlin in January 2001, Carina Prange had the opportunity for this interview:  

Carina: Some say, MMW´s music could be defined as "noise deluxe", others call it "danceable Avantgarde-fusion-funk-jazz" - still others would describe it as "just Jam-session-music" ...

Chris: Well, we don´t "describe" it, we just play it! - I just call it "Medeski-Martin-and-Wood-music" - because it has always been the three of us and it´s always gonna be the three of us! We are always growing and changing - and we are always improvising. So - there is gonna be no way to really catagorize it besides that.

Carina: What is your favorite bass at the moment - how many instruments do you take on the road?

Chris: Oh, for this tour I only brought two - I have my acoustic bass and my electric bass. The electric is a Fender, it´s a 1963 Precision bass. My acoustic bass is a german bass from 1920. But I often also play these old Höfner basses, like the Paul McCartney - the "Beatle-bass" - which I love, too! - Those are my three name-ones that I have been using.

Carina: You travel with your own equipment - how important is this for your personal sound, - what do you use currently?

Chris: I think it is really important for our sound. And so as often as possible we try to bring our own! - But for this tour we rented it all. However, it is all really good - it feels similar to our own. - I think it is in deed a big part of our sound. Because so much of music is "just the sound" - I mean, you can play the same rhythms and the same notes - if you have a bad sound, it just doesn´t work so good!

So, I personally have been using - besides my basses - an Ampeg SVT. I like the sounds of those old SVT tube amps. And John´s the same on the keyboards - he uses older Fender Bassmans. - Also "all tube" amps. And then he´s playing a B3 organ with a Leslie Cabinett, that´s very important for his sound.

Billy usually plays something more like a "jazz-kind" of drumset. He likes a drumset that´s not "all separated" like the modern sets, where every drum is isolated. So, when you hit one nothing else vibrates. And he hates that, because he believes he should hit the one drum and the whole thing should vibrate, like any other instrument! So he prefers the old jazz-sets where the toms are connected to the bass-drum. You know - the whole thing works together and has a tone, instead of just a percussive clicking sound.

Carina: Do you have a different approach in the studio compared to live-playing? What about playing techniques and equipment?

Chris: Naturally your playing changes a little bit in the studio. For me - the difference to playing on stage - with the drums going, the amps blaring, the organ blowing and the audience - is: I just tend to play much harder than I would in the studio. Whereas, if I am inside a little bass booth - isolated - and I can hear myself very well, ultimately the best sound comes from playing softer than you would live. It is similar to: if you hit a drum too hard it doesn´t sound as good as if you hit it "just right". This creates more sound and a better tone.

If we played the same way we play live in the studio
- ironically, it wouldn´t translate to the record!

And you can get "into the subtleties" in the studio, even get into it more there. Whereas live it is harder - because the PA is very loud, you are caught into the energy. I still try to be conscious of the sound on stage, too, but - it´s different, it is just another environment. - So, if you try to translate that kind of energy into the studio, you actually have to play different. Because if we played the same way we play live in the studio - ironically, it wouldn´t translate to the record. It´s almost like you have to use the studio as an instrument, and all the tricks that it can manage to create a "live-exiting" sound.

Carina: The drummer Bob Moses said your bass-playing could be compared to Charles Mingus - "the same kind of energy, intensity and bluesiness" - how does this statement make you feel?

Chris: That makes me feel ... great! I mean, that´s such an honour! Bob knew Charles Mingus as a child and has seen him play. And he knew where Mingus was coming from. And Mingus is definitely one of my biggest heroes on the bass - and so: that´s a great honour.

Martin, Medeski and Wood - "The Dropper"

Carina: MMW is always described as a very "symbiotic" band - are there struggles between the three members? Who dominates in which situation - or does nobody dominate?

Chris: Well, that´s right there - it´s our strength and our weekness - I think that´s what makes this band special - it´s a complete democracy! There is no leader. And that´s what is beautiful and unique about it. But this is also where the problems come from, too. - Yeah, you are constantly playing with switching roles! Because at some point some time someone needs to lead, whether it is musically, emotionally or in any sort of business-decision. It is like a family - we have been together for almost ten years now: so, we are like brothers.

Carina: Following your tour in Europe and one concert in New York, you are travelling to Japan. How is the resonance, how big is the interest in your music in Japan?

Chris: We have only been there two times as a trio. The last time we were there, it was really good. It felt like we planted some seeds and everytime we go back, it´s gonna grow and grow! And we hooked up - the last time we were there, we managed to draw a lot of the younger japanese kids, like we do in the States. So the connection felt right. It´s like we found our audience - we can keep going back and develope that.

Carina: Have you got a sort of "philosophy for life"?

Chris: Well, I mean - ultimately, I just try to "stay in the moment".That really applies for me for music and for living, breathing and everything. If I can just keep my head in what´s going right now, I can get by all right!

Carina Prange

CD: Medeski, Martin & Wood - "The Dropper"
(Blue Note 7243 22841 22)

MMW im Internet: www.mmw.net

Foto1: Danny Clinch

© jazzdimensions2001
erschienen: 20.3.2001
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