The brainchild of NEA Jazz Master drummer Jack DeJohnette, the all-star amalgamation HUDSON, unites four of the most inventive voices in music today to collectively generate a singular new sound that, while rooted in the jazz and rock of the ’60s and ’70s, is decidedly 21st-century in its character.
All of the group’s members came first to New York City from hometowns scattered throughout America—DeJohnette from Chicago, bassist Larry Grenadier from San Francisco, keyboardist John Medeski from Louisville, Kentucky, and guitarist John Scofield from Dayton, Ohio—before one by one they each headed north, trading in the hectic pace of the metropolis for the more peaceful environs of the pastoral Hudson River Valley, from which the group takes its name.
The band’s New York City debut before packed houses at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall on Oct. 6 and 7 found it performing two sets each night of songs from its eponymous new Motéma album, many of which are enduringly associated with the Woodstock area from which its members now hail.
The second night’s proceedings began with a characteristically powerful DeJohnette drum solo forcefully opening the ensemble’s amped-up interpretation Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.” Scofield was the first to join in, introducing the loping melody in a bluesy countrified tone. He was soon underpinned by Grenadier’s funky bass line and the sustained chords of Medeski’s Hammond B-3 organ.
For the next 10 minutes, as DeJohnette’s indefatigable force of nature drumming set the highly energized pace, the group spontaneously interacted with each other’s persistently shifting rhythmic and harmonic progressions that were deeply rooted in their individual sounds, with Scofield interjecting classic jazz voicings in the Wes Montgomery-George Benson vein and Medeski combining organ and keyboard synthesizer sounds that alternately recalled the Memphis soul of Booker T and the space age sonorities of Joe Zawinul.
The collectively improvised title track of the HUDSON album ominously opened up with dark guitar and keyboard chords, portentously setting up the measured march beat that was reinforced by DeJohnette’s steady sock cymbal and Grenadier’s deliberate bass vamp.
Following Scofield’s introduction of the bluesy melodic line the guitarist embarked on a conversational sonic exploration with Medeski’s scronky synthesizer sounds that traversed aural soundscapes of Sun Ra, Stockhausen and On The Corner Miles Davis. DeJohnette’s drums dynamically navigated the group through modulating episodes of intensity and respite that concluded with a climactic decrescendo centered around Medeski’s reverberating keyboard chords and the tolling of the drummer’s signature resonating bells.
Segueing into Scofield’s “El Swing,” DeJohnette kicked things off with another potent solo drum introduction that showcased his polyrhythmic virtuosity as he complemented his crisp snare drum beats with a series of energetic fills that mesmerized the crowd and his fellow band members. Living up to its title the song found the band taking things straight ahead, with Medeski moving over to acoustic piano. Scofield was first out to solo over the boppish chord changes of his charming melody, followed by Medeski, who mined the piece’s Spanish tinges, then Grenadier, whose lyrical outing was soundly complemented by the pianist’s sensitive comping and DeJohnette’s gamboling rhythms.
The concert’s first half concluded with the group returning to the Hendrix songbook for its take on “Castles Made Of Sand,” the evening’s one selection not appearing on the U.S edition of HUDSON cd (it’s included as the bonus track on the Japanese release).
Mirroring the collective improvisational intensity of the album’s title track the band got things started with a hard hitting introduction that cooled down slightly with Scofield’s playing of the classic melody over Medeski’s soulful organ backing. Following the guitarist’s emotion packed extended improvisation DeJohnette delivered a convincing reading of the song’s lyric after which Medeski cranked things back up to bring the set to an exciting finish.
The show’s second segment began with Medeski back at the piano playing a funky solo prelude to introduce a rollicking rendition of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” that had Scofield stretching out over rocking rhythms of DeJohnette, who sang the song’s verse alone, after which he was joined by his bandmates harmonizing on the chorus, before Medeski closed it out with a honky tonkin’ solo.
Scofield introduced Bob Dylan’s protest song “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” noting that “unfortunately it’s just as appropriate now as it was in the ’60s.” Opening with the guitarist’s terse impressionistic rendering of the melody over Medeski’s legato keyboard lines and DeJohnette’s supple waltz rhythms the piece quickly escalated in dynamic intensity, building to an incredibly powerful cacophonous musical representation of the song’s apocalyptic message that resolved with a dark solo bass interlude leading into DeJohnette’s authoritative vocalizing of Bruce Hornsby’s lyric to the drummer’s own “Dirty Ground,” an optimistic New Orleans-style ode to fortitude in the face of disaster.
The show drew to a finish with Scofield’s “Tony Then Jack,” his tribute to DeJohnette’s lineage as successor to Tony Williams’ drum chair in the ’60s Miles Davis Quintet. The hard bopping tour de force outing had the whole band fired up following Scofield’s solo introduction with DeJohnette’s unflagging swing propelling the group to dizzying heights and the audience up out of its seats at its conclusion.
A loudly cheering standing ovation brought the band back on stage for an obligatory encore. “We’d like to end with a song that’s a hallmark of the era a lot of you will remember,” Scofield announced to the appreciative crowd. A final spellbinding DeJohnette solo drum recital then introduced Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” the esteemed singer-songwriter’s tribute to the region the drummer’s long made his home. The band then embarked on an deeply impassioned interpretation of the song that had their spirits visibly soaring high.