The Upshot: More than just a fusion supergroup, the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
In celebration of his 75th birthday, iconoclastic jazz drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette pulled together some of his Hudson Valley neighbors to have a party in the recording studio. Since those neighbors include guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier, that’s a guaranteed good time. But Hudson is more than just a fusion supergroup. There’s a theme underlying the good vibes, as the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young, especially if there is some connection to upstate New York. Thus interspersed with the band’s original compositions sit covers from the catalogs of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and The Band.
Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” becomes a reggae-inflected groove led by Scofield’s biting guitar and Medeski’s noodling organ, while “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” transforms into a psychedelic jam that borders on free jazz. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” slides into a soul jazz vibe, like an organ trio plus bass, while Mitchell’s “Woodstock” becomes a smoky, almost unrecognizable mood piece. The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” retains its signature melody, but ups the funk quotient, letting Scofield and Medeski rip on guitar and piano. None of these tunes come to mind when we think of future jazz standards, but this quartet massages them into pieces that fit the jazz repertoire.
The band’s self-penned compositions fit more in line with what one might expect from this particular grouping. Scofield’s “El Swing” and “Tony Then Jack” (in which the guitarist turns over responsibility of the main riffs over to organist Medeski) swing hard, as might be expected from a songwriter who leans so heavily on groove. DeJohnette’s “Song For World Forgiveness” shimmers through a languorous melody that lets Scofield work his magic. The drummer’s “Great Spirit Peach Chant” is just that, while “Dirty Ground” adds something really unusual: words, written by Bruce Hornsby and sung by DeJohnette in a gruff, plainspoken burr. The title track finds the foursome indulging in friendly jamming, as if they were introducing themselves to each other as well as to us.
In a way, the originals almost feel like afterthoughts. They don’t necessarily fit the theme, nor do they expand on the musicians’ prior work in any significant way – anyone familiar with DeJohnette and Scofield’s writing styles would know what to expect. Of course, these are also musicians who’ve been at the top of their game for decades and have no need to reinvent the wheel. Still, it would’ve been nice for these colleagues to push each other out of their comfort zones on their own tunes as they do on the covers.
DOWNLOAD: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Woodstock,” “Hudson”