Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Camp Meeting

Camp Meeting
By Bruce Hornsby with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette
Columbia Legacy

A recent cliché (that is already tired) is that of pop stars looking to reinvent themselves by muddling through a set of vocal standards with imitation Nelson Riddle arrangements. Far from being the instrumental equivalent of such projects, Bruce Hornsby’s debut jazz recording is the real deal. Blessed with rock steady support from Christian McBride on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, Hornsby shows real jazz chops and respect for the tradition on Camp Meeting.

Meeting begins on an auspicious note, with “Questions and Answers,” a hitherto unrecorded composition by the Pulitzer Prize winning Ornette Coleman. Brimming with nervous energy and propelled along by DeJohnette’s electronically augmented percussion, it is an attention getter that does right by the spirit of its composer. The vibe continues on “Charlie, Woody and You,” an original blues based a Charles Ives work, as Hornsby mixes the down-home with the dissonant. Clearly, this is not frothy Dudley Moore celebrity cocktail jazz.

Hornsby is one of the few pop/rock/etc musicians whose jazz affinities make perfect intuitive sense. His country-rhapsody solos on pop hits like “The Way It Is” certainly demonstrated a command of his instrument and a distinct stylistic voice. That identifiable Hornsby sound is still there in his jazz, particularly his originals like the blues drenched title track, also featuring some programmed augmentation from DeJohnette, and the swinging hoedown “Stacked Mary Possum.” Both are catchy melodies performed with verve by a cohesive trio unit.

In addition to Coleman, Hornsby interprets some classic jazz standards, including John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” given an unusually brisk tempo, featuring dexterously fleet solos from Hornsby and McBride. Miles Davis’ “Solar” starts with a delicate Third Stream style intro from Hornsby, picking up steam from DeJohnette’s percussive effects, as it segues into an idiosyncratic swinger.

Arguably, Hornsby's jazz debut may have been his cover version of “Backhand” contributed to a 2000 Keith Jarrett tribute album, As Long As You’re Living Yours. He shows his range by returning to Jarrett again here, with a sensitive solo interpretation of “Death and Flower.”

In Meeting, Hornsby proves to be an eloquent jazz soloist. His all-star rhythm-mates lock-in with him throughout, with the session benefiting from their drive and DeJohnette’s witty accents. It will be interesting to see what Meeting portends for Hornsby’s future career directions, but as a jazz album, it is as legit as it gets.