Label/Year: Motema, 2017
Lineup - John Scofield: guitar; John Medeski: keyboards; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.
In my mind, the word Hudson establishes an immediate link to the river that flows through eastern New York, which includes the Hudson River Valley and its adjacent communities. However, and from now on, it will also be associated to a super quartet composed of colossal jazz musicians, namely, drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, guitarist John Scofield, and keyboardist John Medeski. From different generations, they nonetheless share similar music tastes and the fun of creating together.
Their first album, equally entitled Hudson, brings not only originals but also curious renditions of tunes by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, and even Jimi Hendrix in a clear celebration of the music from the late 60s and early 70s.
The title track, the only piece credited to the collective, opens the record rooted in an off-the-cuff funky groove, coalescing with the surrounding noirish drones created by Medeski and generating an exuberant milieu for Scofield’s sometimes-lachrymose, sometimes-vigorous stringed chatters.
“El Swing”, the following tune, is a product of the guitarist’s mind and mirrors all his compositional adroitness and flair for fusion. The structure accommodates a migrant folk melody on top of a rock music web, which, despite closely knit, arrives reinforced by unabashed power-chords. This scenario is seamlessly linked to swing passages, where the tension accumulated is momentarily released with groove and laid-back discipline.
The subsequent four tracks allow us to picture the past with vivid colors of the present, starting with Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, here deeply immersed in warm Jamaican waters to acquire the intended reggae complexion. The melodic insinuations come almost exclusively from Scofields’s driving vocabulary.
After reviving “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell with idiosyncrasy and nostalgic devotion, the band crafts “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall”, another song by Dylan turned into a highly atmospheric concoction of folk, jazz, and blues, and where Medeski feels compelled to deconstruct a bit, employing vaporous abstractions that steal the spotlight from Scofield.
On Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow”, the blues elements remain strongly central, even if the rock contortions threaten to take over the setting. The Hendrixian side of Scofield doesn’t disappoint and packs an intense punch while Grenadier and DeJohnette respond accordingly. The former, introducing clipping bass slides and plucking the strings with pure enchantment; the latter, by sending in propulsive flares with a double purpose: embellish and push forward.
The drummer, a true living legend, not only brings three assorted compositions of his authorship into the game, but also sings on two of them. If “Song For World Forgiveness” embraces a conscious pop air after an enigmatic introductory section, “Dirty Ground”, co-written with the pianist/singer Bruce Hornsby, is reminiscent of the latter’s gospel-tinged pop/rock, whereas the optimistic “Great Spirit Peace Chant” is sketched out with indigenous woodwinds and vocals over regular tom-tom thumps.
Not as powerful as some of the projects in which the members of the quartet have been involved lately, Hudson still blooms with a sumptuous elegance and ostensible effortlessness proper of the masters.
To me, not every song reached the same level, but one can’t deny the involving sound and scorching vibrancy drawn by the amalgam of moody blues and several other styles.
02 – El Swing ► 05 – A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall ► 06 – Wait Until Tomorrow