The funny thing about roots is that you don't know how they really look until you shake loose all of the dirt. Who knew that the "popular music" pianist/songwriter/singer, Bruce Hornsby, was a jazz musician at heart? Many may recall the Grammy Award
winning artist from his 1986 platinum hit and album of the same title The Way It Is
(RCA), marked by new folk sounds, social consciousness lyrics, and unorthodox yet glowing piano playing. Hornsby has sinced crossed the borders of jazz, pop, classical, bluegrass and rock music, to the chagrin of critics who can't quite put him into a specific category. And here is Camp Meeting
, a "Sho' Nuff," "straight no chaser,"jazz recording, that is illuminating, inventive, and immersive.
With a set of eleven selections covering fresh material as well as covers by Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and others, Hornsby admittedly needed to go and hone his jazz axe skills. But with the help of a trio of jazz heavies including drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Christian McBride, they come out of the woodshed literally swinging and with plenty of gusto. When you listen to the incendiary version of Coltrane's "Giant Steps," there's no doubt Hornsby's done his homework and then some.
Hornsby's piano skills are profound: swinging hard, ruminating softly on a tender ballad, or wailing the blues. Quick and quirky improvisations, smooth changes in tempo and a sensitive touch, are all present in the repertoire and most importantly, his sound. McBride's bass is resonant, cracking and emotive; his soloing, as heard on "Celia" is excellent. DeJohnette is still a monster drummer of impeccable timing and force, his rhythms massaging and driving the music. The trio's essence is pure on Ornette Coleman's "Questions and Answers" as walking bass line, free piano soloing and a variety of tricks from DeJohnette jump starts the recording.
Drawing from a deep well of Hornsby's many influences, there's a little something for everyone. Folk and swing on "Camp Meeting," a thick Irish Riverdance
like savor on "Stacked Marcy Possum," risky Latin on "Un Poco Loco," by pianist Bud Powell, or the obscure '70s Keith Jarrett piece, "Death and the Flower." All seem to flow naturally out of Hornsby's waters.
The jazz folk will critique it, and others may or may not get it; but those who know good music will appreciate and hope Hornsby revisits the Camp Meeting
again, very soon.