John Medeski’s Mad Skillet in stores, 11/9

Most of the late night jam sessions at Jazz Fest are just that—late night jam sessions with the music flowing from the musicians into the ether. While occasionally magic happens, it is often of the one-off, not-easily-repeated variety. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, featuring New Orleanians Kirk Joseph on sousaphone and Terence Higgins on drums, formed under those very circumstances. But the magic stuck. Their eponymous debut album is in stores Friday.

Since this writer is New Orleans-based, I had to lead with the local musicians who defined a certain period in the long career of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but John Medeski is one of the best known musicians in the jazz and jam band worlds. As the keyboardist with Medeski, Martin and Wood, he is highly influential and is one of the leaders of his generation.

The guitar player in the band is no slacker either. Part of the genesis of the band was Medeski seeking out Will Bernard at Jazz Fest in order to jam together. Medeski was already connected with Joseph and Higgins because he produced the Dirty Dozen’s 1999 album, Buck Jump.

Medeski had this to say about the origins of the band in New Orleans, “Something happens there. There’s something in the air, the water, the food. “Every time we play, it really is magical. We get together and this thing lifts. It has a life of its own, beyond any of us. There’s a lot of ESP in New Orleans music. There’s a certain feel that New Orleans guys have that you can’t get anywhere else.”

The same can be said about the studio work on the new album, which was recorded locally. Though Medeski’s name is out front, both Joseph and Bernard contributed to the songwriting and two songs are described as spontaneous group compositions. There’s even a Sun Ra cover. To get a feel for the band live, check out the video above, which was recorded at one of their first gigs in New Orleans

But more than a collection of tunes that was recorded in New Orleans, Mad Skillet is about an energy and a city. “The hang before you play is just as important as the session,” Medeski concludes. “You have to really be open to get to that place, to get to that vibration where it’s all coming together.”

John Medeski’s Mad Skillet embarked on a 13-date US tour surrounding the release that began on November 2.

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