John Medeski, a multi-faceted and genre-stretching keyboardist who is best known as a member of the hugely successful trio Medeski Martin & Wood, takes a New York–meets–New Orleans approach on this collaborative venture. Perhaps adventure would be a more descriptive term as when he and fellow New Yorker (via San Francisco) guitarist Will Bernard hook up with sousaphonist Kirk Joseph and drummer Terence Higgins—both Crescent City natives and members of the Dirty Dozen—the musical route certainly takes unusual pathways.
The album starts funky on Bernard’s “Man About Town,” with Higgins and Joseph laying down the groove on which Medeski’s keys suggests an organ and the guitarist plays a tasty solo. With these musicians involved, it sounds just—in a good way—as this combo should.
When a cut by the legendary Sun Ra, the Latin-tinged “The Golden Lady,” stands as one of most melodic songs on the album, it’s apparent that Mad Skillet takes some rather bizarre detours on its journey. On this tune, Bernard’s virtuosity is fully realized and Medeski makes good use of the Mellotron to augment the sound.
Medeski takes off on his own, rapid-fire “Piri Piri” with Bernard following suit, both driven by Higgins’ complex yet right-on-the-money rhythms and Joseph holding it all together—a good one.
One has to wonder if anyone will, or can, listen to the group’s “Psychedelic Rhino” more than once. Same goes for “Tuna in a Can.” Anyone like squeaky?
The band ends with a toe-tapping, danceable number, Medeski’s “The Heart of Soul,” the title of which tells it all. It includes some fine slide by Bernard and Medeski’s acoustic piano providing a wonderful tonal change.
Medeski’s Mad Skillet is a wild bunch of talented guys. Everything needed is there. For the listener it’s just about picking how far to follow these adventurers.