Bruce Hornsby: Camp Meeting (2007)
Last year's retrospective boxed set, Intersections (RCA), revealed the varied interests of a musician who has long charted his own path. As a touring member of the Grateful Dead and regular collaborator with bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs, Hornsby has proven his improvisational mettle in a plethora of situations.
Hornsby's rollicking cover of "Backhand," from As Long As Your Living Yours: The Music of Keith Jarrett (BMG, 2000), suggested a more adventurous and multi- dimensional artist than conventional wisdom suggested. Sporadic collaborations with Branford Marsalis and Pat Metheny further supported the contention that the Grammy winning pop song tunesmith would one day make a jazz record.
Hornsby's technique might not be quite up to his sidemen's level, but he certainly is game; he throttles the keys with deliberate dissonances, leans hard into the blues and skirts gracefully around ballads, while leaping dexterously through bop standards with bracing angularity. Hornsby moves beyond his collegiate jazz studies, taking liberties with phrasing and harmonics a more conservative musician wouldn't risk.
Stretching past his own comfort zone, bassist Christian McBride unleashes a spasmodic solo fraught with wailing arco dissonances during an Ivesian interlude in "Charlie, Woody 'n' You" that genuinely surprises. Conversely, his funky break on the title track and ebullient, melodic variations on Hornsby's driving, Gaelic- tinged "Stacked Mary Possum" are positively exuberant.
A marvel of polyrhythmic fury and percussive invention, DeJohnette's spry interjections and sly accents are mesmerizing. But he has an unfortunate tendency to occasionally insert subtle, but obtrusive electronic drum machine loops into a few tunes. Like glorified click tracks, they ultimately prove more distracting than supportive.
Opening with the previously unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition, the roiling "Questions and Answers," Hornsby ably demonstrates his abilities and aesthetic allegiances. Throughout the album, the trio adds their own subtle twists and turns to a program built primarily on classic jazz standards.
Keith Jarrett's "Death and the Flower" is delivered in delicate neo-classical fashion, with gentle dynamics and sensitivity, while Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" is conveyed with punchy brio. A handful of originals pepper the album, and anyone exposed to Hornsby's platinum selling The Way It Is (RCA, 1986), will instantly recognize his distinctively bittersweet new folk harmonies and uplifting, bucolic Americana.
Holding his own in the company of world-class improvisers through a program of iconic standards from giants like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, Hornsby succeeds beyond expectations in making a verifiable jazz record. Solid and surprisingly inventive, Camp Meeting is likely a strong indicator of things to come.
Track Listing: Questions and Answers; Charlie, Woody 'n' You; Solar; Death and the Flower; Camp Meeting; Giant Steps; Celia; We'll Be Together Again; Stacked Marcy Possum; Straight, No Chaser; Un Poco Loco.
Personnel: Bruce Hornsby: piano; Christian McBride: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.
Record Label: Legacy Recordings