During a midday hike along the cliffs of northern New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River, drummer Billy Martin walks on isolated paths spotted with melting snow.
"It's really beautiful," he says, panting. "There's nobody here."
His breath becomes increasingly labored as he tries to explain why Medeski Martin and Wood, his jazz trio with keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Chris Wood, is popular on the jam-band circuit.
"It's a strange phenomenon," Martin admits. "There's a lineage with some sort of hippie subculture. … The Dead would have Ornette Coleman or Pharoah Sanders open for them, too."
His band will become Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood when they bring jazz guitarist John Scofield on board during this week's Jam Cruise, where the quartet is booked among jam heavyweights such as Moe and Galactic. Before that, the trio will hit Revolution Live at 8 p.m. Sunday.
MMW released "Free Magic" last year, a 21st-anniversary live album recorded on the band's first acoustic tour. This weekend's performance will be electric, but Martin says he'd like to unplug live more often.
"Sometimes, electric is a lot of work because people are partying and dancing," he says. "With acoustic playing, it's basically like chamber music. You control the music that you're playing … you can go soft and loud. It's more expressive."
The "Free Magic" title track displays the percussive dissonance and mixed-instrument teasing that make MMW an avant-garde jazz trio, splattered with the escalating melodies that attract Deadheads and Phish-phans.
Martin says his band plays to a mostly white, college-aged audience most times. He considers acoustic jams opportunities to introduce young people to new music — styles of jazz that germinated decades ago and come back today at camp-out music festivals and Northeastern college towns.
Because he got his start, and joined his bandmates, in the New York Brazilian-music scene, the bearded percussionist complements his drums with tribal noisemakers and Latin sounds he learned from playing samba in the '80s and '90s.
Aboard the Jam Cruise, the MSMW show will be more like a party than a chamber recital. Still, Martin says it's not just about "rocking out."
"I'm into giving people real experiences," he says, almost out of breath from his walk. "Taking a journey musically and giving them some things to dance to on the way. It's not just a party — it's an experience."
Medeski Martin and Wood will perform 8 p.m. Sunday at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $37.65 at Ticketmaster.com.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times