We love playing zoos,” joshes Hammond B-3 organ player John Medeski, whose trio, Medeski, Martin & Wood, swells to a quartet with guitarist John Scofield at the Woodland Park Zoo on Wednesday, June 18. “We don’t get to play for giraffes that often. They definitely have the best view.”
Actually, bands play closer to the emus and wallabies at ZooTunes. But never mind. If they can hop, they should be able to groove.
They’ll have four first-rate teachers, listening to Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood, who kick off the zoo’s always delightful outdoor-concert series in the North Meadow.
Medeski and his pals Billy Martin (drums) and Chris Wood (bass) developed an audience for their jazz/rock sound by doing hundreds of club dates in the 1990s, rock-band style. But when funky ex-Miles Davis guitarist John Scofield recruited them for his 1997 album, “A Go Go,” a new dimension opened up. Sco’s irresistible lines flow through the trio’s array of electronic effects like a sonic braid.
Scofield is an encyclopedia of masterful grooves, as last year’s extraordinary “Uberjam Deux” demonstrated in spades.
The new MSM & W project, due in September, is called “Juice,” inspired by the beats of boogaloo, a funky, fun Latin style that arose in the 1960s. Jazz heads know boogaloo from Lee Morgan’s jukebox hit, “The Sidewinder,” though Latin fans may be more partial to Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers. New Orleanians may justifiably claim the style as just another street beat that evolved in the Crescent City.
Medeski calls it “Latin light,” in the sense that the music has a light, airy feeling and a strong back beat. It’s such a natural point of departure for Scofield and the trio, Medeski wonders why they didn’t think of it a long time ago.
“But all this African-based music in the Americas, from South America on up, has been inspiring for us,” he said. “It’s an endless bounty of music, especially when it comes to rhythm.”
One of the nice surprises on “Juice” is a cover of the Doors anthem, “Light My Fire,” an idea Medeski says may have come to Wood when they heard the song in an elevator.
“We talked about it and we realized we could do a totally cool version,” he said. “We reinvented it.”
“Juicy Lucy” is another high point, featuring the gauzy spider web of Scofield’s guitar encountering Medeski’s reverbed Hammond B-3.
“Helium” suggests a slightly demented Brazilian parade; a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” gets a reggae vibe. Medeski says the latter started out as a recreational jam, but they liked it so much they decided to leave it on the album.
MM & W doesn’t tour as much as it used to, partly because the members are busy with other projects. Seattleites have been especially partial to Wood’s folksy group, the Wood Brothers. Medeski issued a much praised solo piano album last year.
“I don’t think any of us expected to be together 23 years,” says Medeski. “But it’s still as fun and surprising as it’s always been.”
Keep an eye out for the giraffes perking up their ears.
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood
6 p.m. Wednesday, June 18, at the Woodland Park Zoo, 601 N. 59th St., Seattle; $25 (548-2500 or www.zoo.org).