One of the first wonders of the Blink festival came on Thursday evening with a supergroup of modern jazz kingpins in Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, presented by the Xavier University Music Series. Hudson consists of drummer Jack DeJohnette, the heartbeat of Miles Davis’s final Quintet and first electric groups, guitarist John Scofield, who’s played with everyone from Mingus to Phil Lesh, bassist Larry Grenadier, a longtime sideman for Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny, and Medeski Martin & Wood keyboardist John Medeski. The members have collaborated in different configurations over the years, but didn’t join forces as a quartet until the Woodstock Jazz Festival three years ago. They regrouped earlier this year to write and record, and named both the group and the album after the river valley they call home. Their album, released in June, features six originals and five covers of songs related to the region, and they largely drew from that material on Thursday.
The group came out swinging with Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.” The quartet plays tight, simmering fusion in the vein of Tony Williams Lifetime, right down to Medeski’s front-and-center B3 organ. Scofield, armed as always with his trademark hollow body Ibanez, typically takes the melodic lead, playing the themes and taking the first solos. His tone is bright and sharp, his crisp lead lines always piercing at the front of the mix. Grenadier thunders along in the low end on his upright bass, but it’s hard to take your eyes off DeJohnette. Even at 75, the man is a machine, a dynamic and propulsive drummer and the group’s quiet leader. The three fully original compositions drew heavily on each member’s individual strength, expertly engineered as foundations for group improvisations.
Many of the covers start off somewhere in the vicinity of the source material, but quickly spiral off into other realms, their melodies inverted and their structures fractured. Hendrix’s shifting open-chord intro to “Castles Made of Sand” (the only song of the night not included on the record) was barely hinted at when Scofield led it off, but emerged instead from a scorching guitar solo towards the end. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” skipped Bob Dylan’s Armageddon-prophesying lyrics, but communicated the same sentiment in a dissonant breakdown that started with Medeski and rippled to the other players. “Up on Cripple Creek” stayed closer to The Band’s original swampy funk, and DeJohnette even took to the mic to sing through a verse and a chorus towards the end with Scofield and Medeski lending strong harmonies. He took the lead again on “Dirty Ground,” which originally appeared as a collaboration with Bruce Hornsby and Esperanza Spalding on his 2012 album “Sound Travels.”
The main set concluded with a dark, slowed-down run through Scofield’s composition “Tony Then Jack” (referring to Williams and DeJohnette), which featured a lengthy, virtuosic bass and drum duet. Although always crucial to the sound, Grenadier’s basslines often get buried, and it was a treat to hear him keep pace with DeJohnette while their bandmates gleefully looked on. The night’s crowning achievement came in the encore with an extended take on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” which clocked in just shy of 20 minutes. Medeski was the hero here, transferring Mitchell’s haunting Wurlitzer arpeggios to the Steinway grand piano before jetting off to the stratosphere and sending us off into the night. Even in the midst of all Blink’s artistic wonders, Hudson’s set stood out as a testament to the power of collaboration and of already-timeless work projected through a new lens.
Nat Tracey-Miller is a Cincinnati-based high school librarian, musician, cartophile, and lifelong music fan whose love spans from Bowie to Beethoven to Bon Iver to Brubeck and hits every point in between. His writing has appeared in CincyMusic, Columbus Calling, Tome to the Weather Machine, Mixtape Methodology, and more. He records as The Birds of America, and is currently completing his first EP.