The problem with most jazz/hip-hop fusions isn't the rapping, it's the rhythm. Nothing kills a jazz vibe faster than a metronome: relentlessly regular programmed beats can drain the life out of music. (It's one reason why disco haters hate disco.) Medeski, Martin & Wood's drummer Billy Martin understands this: he can play lockdown grooves rock steady, but you can tell there's a person back there. A live musician will give a little without even trying. Hear Medeski, Martin and DJ Olive's "Sleeptalking" for that: Martin's beats are popping, and so are Olive's turntable moves, as creative as old-time radio sound effects.
On the live The Turntable Sessions, Volume 1 Martin round-robins with hip-hop producer Scotty Hard, bellowing vocalist Dean Bowman and some crème de la downtown jazz and improvising scene: Marty Ehrlich on alto and flute, Ikue Mori on electronics, vibist Matt Moran coming on like an avant-garde Roy Ayers and the aforementioned Mr. Olive, who's helped invigorate Uri Caine's classical music recycling projects.
It's loosey-goosey with a groove, and the turntable collaging is dense and shifting enough to keep the ear engaged even when the feet seem a higher priority. Things take a dip when singers Mike Ill and Bowman take center stage for a couple of tracks: one wants to yodel like Jimmie Rodgers, the other like Leon Thomas. But those are momentary lapses.