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Billy Martin/Wil Blades Duo

by Ali Hibbs on January 24, 2013


“We have vinyl for sale if you’re interested in that,” drummer Billy Martin announced near the end of the set, “but we’ve got a couple more of the real thing for you first.”

Any band dealing in a genre plucked from a prior historical time will face the rubrick of authenticity. Martin’s primary gig with Medeski, Martin and Wood has long since given him the freedom to distort musical genres—due to that band’s proficiency in them—but young organist Wil Blades, the other half of this duo, is still trying to earn that freedom. That day is not far off, as he’s filled the organ chair for both Karl Denson and Will Bernard in recent years.. Having studied with soul-jazz organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, Blades is about as traditional a jazz organist as you’ll find in this generation, commanding bass lines with the Hammond foot pedals, comping chords with his left hand, and soloing with his right. It’s mesmerizing to watch—which is really saying something, given that he has to share the stage with one of jazz’s most mesmerizing drummers.

Martin only brought a half-trunkful of percussion with him to this midweek gig, clanging on a set of Gamelan gongs and rocking the ever-loving shit out of a simple tambourine between tight, New Orleans-style second-line grooves. And it felt like a return to form for him too, vibing on traditionals like “Down by the Riverside.” The two released a record called Shimmy about a year ago, and don’t tour as much as they used to, but the material is still totally ingrained in their mutual chemistry. Playing MC for the night, Martin had to occasionally ask Blades what the name of a tune they’d just played was, without having stumbled in its actual execution.