I didn’t always like MMW. I picked up 1996’s Shack-man under the influence of the onslaught of praise they were receiving back then, and while I found the funky, bubbly grooves entertaining, it mostly sounded like test tracks by some guys messing around with their new recording gear. In the end, however, I was won over by their adventurous sound-making, the sense of freedom with which they attack improvisation, and their double-dog-dare approach to recording, all of which are evident in this new compilation.
Note Bleu contains 15 tracks culled from the trio’s six Blue Note discs - Combustication, Combustication Remix, Tonic, The Dropper, Uninvisible and End of the World Party (just in case). Not surprisingly, the collection eschews simple chronological ordering, resulting in a disc that sounds more like a carefully crafted album than a best-of rip-off.
What I find most admirable about MMW is that even when playing the wackiest, most out-there stuff, the trio remains in control and knows how to hold back, like some sort of tantric free jazz. It’s interesting that 11 of the 15 cuts clock in at under five minutes, and more than half are under four minutes. There are no orgiastic, 15-minute, one-chord crescendos to nothing. And, something I missed on many earlier spins of their discs, there are just as many memorable melodies and grooves ("I Wanna Ride You," "Pappy Check," "Mami Gato") as there are weird, alien sonic brainscapes ("The Dropper," "Nocturne," "Off the Table"). The take on Hendrix’s "Hey Joe" is downright elegiac.
In his liner notes to Note Bleu, Bill Milkowski called End of World Party MMW’s "swan song on Blue Note," which sounded so terminal, I had to visit the band’s Web site to make sure there hadn’t been a death or something. Have no fear: In addition to tons of solo projects - Concord Records just released Marianne McPartland’s latest installment of Piano Jazz with Medeski; Martin has two discs slated for release this year; and Wood’s collaboration with his brother, Oliver, is all the rage right now (the duo has a couple of dates scheduled in their native Boulder, Colo.) - the site also mentioned a follow up to their 1998 collaboration with John Scofield, A Go Go. I dismissed that disc as too much noodling back in ’98; sounds like I may have to revisit and reassess.