in performance: hudson

Hudson. From left, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and John Medeski. Photo by Nick Suttle.

It took roughly five minutes for the members of Hudson to make good on the concept of an actual jazz supergroup last night at the Corbett Theater in Cincinnati.

First up was a drum solo from Jack DeJohnette, who, at age 75, played with the stamina of a percussionist half his age but, more importantly, the taste and intuition of a true musical sage. Next was guitarist John Scofield, a Miles Davis alumnus, like DeJohnette, although it’s the music he has pioneered under his own name over several decades that continues to define his true resourcefulness. At once, his tone was huge and clear as the band locked into a melodic drive that was subsequently reconfigured to Scofield’s sense of subtle yet pronounced immediacy. Then we had John Medeski, one third of the avant jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood, who orchestrated the group’s playing with churchy soulfulness on B3 organ. That left Larry Grenadier, a veteran of scores of jazz collaborations with the likes of Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and most notably Brad Mehldau, to ground the resulting music on double bass.

Perhaps best of all was the composition at hand. It wasn’t some obvious jazz standard, but rather an artful reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.”

What all this translated into was the sound of four immensely gifted – and, within the jazz world, popular – instrumentalists reaching for what most so-called supergroups are seldom able to find. They played like an actual band. Admittedly, strong alliances already existed before Hudson solidified itself as a unit. Scofield and Medeski, for instance, have been recording together on and off for nearly two decades. As such, we saw the two playing off each other’s ideas repeatedly last night, especially during an encore cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that allowed the dynamics of both players to mingle within waves of collaborative cool that quickly built into a rockish boil.

But there was also considerable dexterity on display within Hudson’s original material, particularly two works by Scofield. The first, “El Swing,” employed dark, meaty piano rolls from Medeski that fell somewhere between the modal play of McCoy Tyner and the arty playfulness of Thelonious Monk. The other, “Tony Then Jack,” was actually where the true swing was served before DeJohnette took over on an extended run backed by Grenadier that showcased Hudson’s scholarly stylistic command as well as the supergroup’s unified sound and spirit.

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