Artist: Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield
Release Date: 6/9/2017
A few reference points occurred to me about this album. It reminded me of seeing John Scofield’s Piety Street gospel band live, when John said, “We recorded this album in Piety Street Studios, on Piety Street, and called it Piety Street.” Similarly, this band recorded this album in the Hudson Valley, calls the group Hudson, and named the album and title track Hudson too. Second, Jack DeJohnette appears on Michael Brecker’s album from 1996, Tales from the Hudson, which has similar instrumentation except for Brecker’s sax. Third, due to the five rock covers, it covers similar ground as Herbie Hancock’s 1998 The New Standard, on which both DeJohnette and Scofield played. Anyway, let’s discuss this brilliant project but suggest you check out those mentions as well.
The genesis for this effort was the 2014 Woodstock Jazz Festival where these four iconic players, all of whom had played with at least one of the others, came together. Immediately recognizing their chemistry and commonality–especially since all now live in New York’s Hudson Valley, they began to explore the idea of working together. Keyboardist John Medeski says, “This area has been a place for musicians to come to retreat. There’s performing, but there’s also writing and practicing and growing and going deeper. Traditionally people have come to this environment to search and grow. To woodshed.” Elder statesman drummer DeJohnette found it the perfect way to celebrate his 75th birthday. “Being up here in the mountains where you have some peace and tranquility, in a small inmate room, the spiritual bond was definitely there. We didn’t feel stressed about recording. It was relaxed, so the music comes out that way. It has spirit and intensity and presence, but it also has a calm as well.” Jack got to know all the members of The Band and loved their music. Hence, we get several related tunes from that infamous Woodstock era:“Up on Cripple Creek,” Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Dylan’s “Lay lady Lay” and “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” as well as Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Wait Until Tomorrow.”
The album is a showcase for all four of them. Scofield’s angular and melodic guitar lines, Medeski’s creative keyboard excursions, including a couple of gorgeous acoustic piano tunes (especially DeJohnette’s “Song for World Forgiveness”), Grenadier’s ever steady yet adventurous acoustic bass, and DeJohnette’s signature drumming with so much finesse on snare and cymbals. The defiant “Dirty Ground” features DeJohnette’s moving vocals. The closer, “Great Spirit Peace Chant,” pays tribute to the Native American tribes that first settled the region as the quartet joins together on chants and wooden flutes.
Given the mostly electric fare, particularly on the rock numbers, it’s tempting to call this jazz fusion but it feels different. It’s lighter. All bass playing is acoustic, for example. Scofield says this in the liners, “it’s been so much fun to take these rock tunes and turn them into stuff that a little bit different. We all have some way of playing rock that not necessarily what they call jazz ‘fusion.’ It’s not really a genre yet, but I bet at some point people will say, ‘that’s the way to do it!’” No matter what genre you favor, you can’t help but appreciate the masterful musicianship of these four talents.