By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Medeski, Martin & Wood bassist Chris Wood gets that hometown feeling every time his group performs in Boulder, where he was raised. "My parents live there, and my wife's parents live there, too," he reveals, "so it always turns into a big family reunion."
Then again, everything's relative for Wood these days, no matter where he's performing. In addition to his MMW duties, he's half of the Wood Brothers, a new act that pairs him with his older brother, vocalist/guitarist Oliver. Appropriately, this side project allows Chris to show, well, another side of himself. Rather than clone the jazzy vibe of his longtime group, the Brothers' forthcoming debut, Ways Not to Lose, offers a bluesy blend that's naturally boosted by genetics.
The Woods' sound has deep roots in more ways than one. As a kid, Chris remembers tagging along with Oliver, and in between "getting my butt kicked," he received an education from his bro's record collection, which ranged from '60s rock platters to the masterworks of Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters. In their teen years, the boys occasionally made music together on a casual basis, with Chris plucking Oliver's hand-me-down bass and Oliver manning the guitar. But they subsequently headed in different directions, with Oliver winding up in Atlanta, where he formed an outfit called King Johnson, and Chris relocating to the East Coast. There Chris teamed with drummer Billy Martin and pianist/organist John Medeski in an uncategorizable combo beloved by jazz fans and jam-band aficionados alike.
The siblings' separate career paths converged a couple of years ago, when King Johnson opened a North Carolina gig for MMW. Oliver sat in with the headliners, and Chris was flabbergasted by the results. "There was something so familiar about his playing," he recalls. "It was kind of like watching myself, in a strange way. I thought, wow, this is a real blood connection."
Ways Not to Lose is dominated by Oliver's material, but the arrangements of tunes such as "One More Day" were mutual creations, Chris says. Execs at Blue Note Records liked the results enough to sign the brothers, and they've set a March release date for the disc. In contrast, MMW recently decided to leave Blue Note after the better part of a decade, under the theory that taking the independent route will be more profitable for the trio in the long run. The move would seem to bode ill for Ways' commercial prospects, but Chris feels otherwise. "Nobody ever knew what to do with MMW in terms of marketing," he maintains. "But the marketing people listen to the Wood Brothers and go, 'No problem.' Lyrics? Songs? Much easier."
Even if the Wood Brothers break through, Chris remains committed to MMW, which has several fresh recordings in the works, including a children's album and a collaboration with guitarist John Scofield. Likewise, MMW fully supports the Chris-Oliver partnership. As evidence, note that John Medeski produced Ways. According to Chris, "John is like my other brother."
His family's getting bigger all the time.