Brothers in jams

by Ryan Snyder

Calls for the Wood Brothers’ crafty spin on Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing (PYT)” went unanswered at their jam-packed Blind Tiger set on Friday night, but they decided to do one better. Chris Wood of Medeski Martin & Wood acclaim, comfortably within the Top 5 most important working bassists of the last two decades, laid down his upright at the tail end of the saucy electric soul tune “Honey Jar” and slithered around the stage, not quite in a full-on moonwalk and just short of a smooth criminal, while brother Oliver and percussionist Jano Rix massaged the rhythm for their light-on-his-feet bandmate.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t be entirely unexpected that a man who’s spent the better part of his career tethered to a giant chunk of wood, laying down impossible grooves as a member of one of the most important jazz trios to ever convince the world they were jam, should be moved like anyone else. The Wood Brothers themselves are a group that defies the simple labels that would otherwise so obviously describe their music. They’re too varied for blues, too pop for jazz and too unpredictable for soul, but some combination of these will invariably work, sight unseen.

And that’s key, because seeing them create their music live opens a whole new perspective one them. On the most basic level, the trio (with Rix on the oddball percussive shuitar — pronounced exactly as one would think) are in possession of the ungodly talent required to continue to evade labels. They spun a tech glitch on “Wastin’ My Mind” into an opportunity to give it two utterly irreconcilable presentations, one fluttery acoustic and the other a sizzling electric stomp.

When it comes time for the earnest renderings, however, they handed over “Luckiest Man” for the crowd to do the heavy lifting for their breakthrough Smoke Ring Halo cut. And when it came time to close on a spiffy cover tune from left field, Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman” did more than fine.