The late Jimmy Smith is credited with single-handedly turning the Hammond B3 organ into a bona-fide jazz instrument, though the music he played, which borrowed from gospel, old-style R&B and mainstream pop, appealed to a much wider audience. The B3 eventually became a fixture of rock and soul, but no one really built on Smith’s jazz legacy until John Medeski switched to organ in the early 1990s because it was an easier instrument to tour with than a grand piano.
Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood started out as a piano trio who deconstructed classic jazz tracks into funky soul workouts. In that regard, organ fitted their purposes better than piano did. Since the late ’90s, there has been a mini-boom in organ trios — Soulive being the most successful — but none comes close to Medeski Martin & Wood in terms of eclecticism. For all their experimental tendencies, MMW is always viscerally exciting, making them heroes to both stone jazz enthusiasts and the ever-expanding jam band crowd.
On their latest album, “Out Louder,” they add guitarist and Miles Davis alumnus John Scofield to the lineup. Scofield hired the trio for his 1997 album “A Go Go,” which was more groove-oriented than his usual work. Groove is definitely MMW’s metier, and with Scofield taking orders from them rather than the other way around, “Out Louder” comes as close to Jimmy Smith’s ecstatic, hard-driving workouts as anything released since the great man died in 2005. Medeski’s and Scofield’s instrumental duels are more rock than jazz, though the various tracks’ complex structures prevent extensive jamming. That they save for live shows, which should be a blast.