While many improvisational bands can sound disjointed, coerced or formulaic, Medeski Martin & Wood has defied those descriptions for decades.
The group melds free-form jazz, funk and rock. Those familiar with their studio records can expect to hear different versions of songs when they're played live.
MMW sets can be lengthy and at times border on the self-indulgent, but they always seem to have some magical, musical throughline for tunes and medleys.
The group's core John Medeski (keys), Chris Martin (drums), and Chris Wood (electric and acoustic bass) has remained the same for the better part of 22 years, although they've collaborated with artists as diverse as John Scofield, the Mississippi Allstars and Robert Randolph.
In between its members' many other projects, the band is touring this year, and as luck would have it, its gig Saturday in Davis is the only one that incorporates the spectacular Joshua Light Show, which projects many of the big-screen psychedelic visuals that backed acts such as the Who, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead when they played New York's Fillmore East in the '60s.
The Bee connected with Medeski before a recent solo gig at New York City's Le Poisson Rouge to talk about making music, touring and band dynamics.
What is the songwriting process like for MMW?
These days, everyone has family and the process is very laid-back. We can just show up. We don't need to say a word and we will just start to play. There's no rule that we don't play old songs or new. The most important thing is that it's about an energy. In a live setting, we always pull out whatever we want and continue to be spontaneous.
MMW has played all kinds of venues over the years, including clubs, recital halls and outdoor festivals. Which do you prefer?
We've done whole runs in performing arts centers and that sort of thing. We can play in your living room and just as easily play in a stadium or festival setting. We actually prefer your living room.
I think the venue defines your connection with the audience. The way we play in a bar tells us where we're going to take the audience. I do remember, however, that we played in Quebec, Canada, in an Irish bar. The stage was in the center of the room inside a cage. Now, we're not easily thrown off, but that was probably the worst experience.
One of the coolest yet most bizarre shows was in East Lansing, Mich. Since the club had been closed down by the fire department, we decided to set up and play in the alley next to the club. That was a great show.
Are all the band members still based on the East Coast?
Chris Wood is moving to Nashville. He has a brother there. I live in Woodstock, N.Y., and Chris Martin lives nearby in New Jersey.
You've released MMW records on Blue Note records as well as a handful of independent labels. Your first solo record, "A Different Time," was recently released on Sony's OKeh Records imprint. Any preference?
I have always been a fan of being independent. To be honest though, it's very difficult right now. When we first started the group, we were silk-screening our own T-shirts and selling stuff right off the stage.
When I finished my new solo record, I wanted to try and expand the possibilities of people who could hear this record. To be honest, it's nice that Sony is doing licensing these days and that my new solo record can be exploited in many new places.
MEDESKI MARTIN & WOOD WITH JOSHUA LIGHT SHOW
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jackson Hall in the Mondavi Center, UC Davis
Cost: $63, $47 and $35