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The eclectic sound of Medeski Martin & Wood is hard to pin down. 

Postmodern Jams

Mayo Island Music Festival with The Roots, Medeski Martin & Wood, Cibo Matto and 2 Skinnee J's
Mayo Island
noon-8 p.m.
May 16
$17.50 in advance, $20 at the gate
262-8100

Their music may be sold in the jazz section of music stores but the postmodern organ trio of Medeski Martin & Wood is a bit too slippery to categorize. The lack of guitars and vocals are what you may first notice about the trio's chilled out, white-boy, funky jazz, which, at times, features a mild hint of hip-hop.

"Jazz people think we're rock and rock people think we're jazz," says band member Chris Wood by phone from his Brooklyn home.

After getting their start in the early '90s as a piano-led ensemble in New York, keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Wood developed into an organ-based trio with a mushrooming fan base. Drawing on inspiration from such jazz artists as Duke Ellington, Albert Ayler and Sun Ra, and world musicians from Brazil and Cuba, MMW forged a distinctive style of music infused with funk, hip-hop, blues, rock and avant-garde sensibilities.

MMW cleverly peddled their music in unlikely venues across the country, introducing their jazz-based groove to a wide audience. "Musically we're influenced by jazz, but we consciously made a decision when we first started touring that we would not play jazz clubs," Wood says. "We never liked the scene at jazz clubs very much. ... there seem to be pre-set expectations of what's going to be played there." Instead, the band booked themselves in cafes, alternative rock clubs and other places where they wouldn't be restricted to just playing within the jazz framework.

"We're just three guys who like to play music together," Wood explains. "We're always changing, influenced by new styles and trying to incorporate new sounds. We're always growing — that's why you can't really put a category on it, that's why we named the band what we did. All the names we thought of sounded contrived, like a rock band, so in the spirit of a jazz trio, we used our names because we improvise like a jazz trio. And there is no leader in our group, we're a democracy."

Part of MMW's magic comes from the fact that all three are on essentially equal musical footing — all possess a New England Conservatory of Music pedigree — and any one of them can take the lead, provide a new direction or take a different tangent at any given moment.

"A lot of what we do is undecided before we get on stage," Wood says. "The audience is witnessing us figuring out what we're going to play on the spot, and I think that's fun to watch. We get on stage and try to get everyone to pay attention. We're obviously influenced by the audience, so there's interaction you can't get from a record. The audience is part of the show."

Recently, the band has been touring with DJ Logic who improvises by using his record collection as an instrument. "When it comes to live gigs it's really mostly about us playing music as a trio and him adding a forth element, Wood says. "We discuss very
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