When John Medeski, Chris Wood and Billy Martin go into the studio to record any new album, they're never sure what will emerge. It was no different when the trio gathered in an upstate New York studio last year with a few concepts, a few musical ideas and a few friends, to create Let's Go Everywhere, their first recording designed to please their youngest fans.
Little Monster Records co-founder Kate Hyman is a longtime MMW devotee. She talked over some concepts with Wood as their two daughters shared play dates. "I knew they could make a good children's record - the childlike joy they express in their music is so perfect. We wanted to introduce children to jazz without making it too heady, to make it actually fun," explains Hyman.
The group settled on the idea of a journey, of travel both literal and figurative. It proved to be a motivating concept. "But we didn't have much going in," says Wood. "It was a thread we followed as we improvised, composed and worked through each piece on the spot. We call it 'spontaneous composition.'" Martin agrees that "we really had very little figured out. maybe a few ideas about a beat or a nursery rhyme we liked, but we went into the studio not knowing what would happen."
"It was terrifying," agrees Medeski, laughing. "But that's how it always is. Our music always comes out of improvisation." Martin remembers how the ideas bounced around and how "Chris would be in one corner writing lyrics while I worked out the drum parts." In four days, they managed to lay down the instrumental tracks for all 15 pieces.
Then the fun part began. Wood and Martin enlisted vocals from their children Nissa and Dakota. More children's voices were brought in from sessions with their classmates and friends. Dakota's punk-charged rendition of "Pat a Cake" came out of one take. And with the sounds of real-life kids playing with pots and pans, the traditional "All Around the Kitchen" gains true resonance. In the perfect party song, the band gets into a funky groove that stops suddenly, prompting enthusiastic young voices to shout, "Where's the Music?" and the music to start up again. "We got that idea from our kids' love of musical chairs," explains Wood.
As the party continued, the trio brought in other friends to add to the musical journey. Medeski's lifetime friend Tim Ingham composed the lyrics and recorded his resonant vocals for two songs: "Let's Go Everywhere" and "Pirates Don't Take Baths," both of which ended up being kid favorites in the listening sessions that followed. Martin enlisted the help of John Lurie, founding member of the Lounge Lizards who is well known for his film work (Down by Law, Stranger than Paradise). Lurie's wonderfully weird and subversive tale of the Squalb mesmerized listeners. Other pieces experimented with rhythms from far-flung cultures of the world- Asian, Brazilian, Latin and American jazz and other rootsy beats. Martin used the African mbira on some of the tracks, and Medeski pulled out his claviola, a limited edition Hohner instrument that lends haunting notes to "Far East Sweets" and "The Train Song."
All three band members see Let's Go Everywhere as an opportunity to play music they like without talking down to kids. "Kids are really quick," Medeski says. "We don't need to treat them like idiots." Wood agrees that "kids are like sponges. We like to introduce our own kids to a huge range of music, and they love all kinds of sounds." Martin calls this album "one of my favorite records, one of the best we've ever done" and says it brought band members closer together than ever. "It really sparked a new direction for us in many ways."