By the time Jack DeJohnette and his family moved from Manhattan to the Hudson River Valley in the early ’70s, the masterful jazz drummer had worked with Bill Evans and Charles Lloyd and recorded with Miles Davis on albums, including the 1970 jazz-rock watershed release Bitches Brew.
DeJohnette, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and Grammy winner who turns 75 in August, says when he moved to the Hudson Valley, Bob Dylan was still around and there were a lot of blues artists like Taj Mahal living there.
“It was a great environment for creative artists,” DeJohnette says. “A lot of artists have been here for many years, music artists and writers, painters and so forth. The Woodstock Festival was in the ’60s, and people like Dylan and Hendrix were up here, and the Band, of course.”
The area has also attracted fellow jazz players, like guitarist John Scofield, bassist Larry Grenadier and keyboardist John Medeski, who all moved to the Hudson Valley, DeJohnette says, to raise their kids in "a peaceful environment and a community that’s really great to be a part of.”
DeJohnette says that's reflected in the music of Hudson, the band the four musicians formed after playing the Woodstock Jazz Festival in 2014. They’ve all played together in various combinations. Scofield and Medeski go back two decades to A Go Go, Scofield’s first album with Medeski Martin & Wood; Scofield and DeJohnette recorded and toured together with Trio Beyond and collaborated with Herbie Hancock. DeJohnette and Grenadier have played with Pat Metheny on various recordings and gigs in the Hudson Valley. But when the four musicians played together at the Woodstock Jazz Fest, that configuration was a first.
“It was a great rapport, and we had good time playing the music,” DeJohnette says. “Then I asked everybody, because we had such a great time during the festival: It would be a great idea if we put together the group and do a recording, do some dates. Everybody was down with that.”
They dubbed their outfit Hudson, since everyone lived in the area. Along with the name was the band's driving theme, which drew on the region’s rich music history. They covered tunes like Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow,” the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”
After a few rehearsals, the group spent five days at NRS Recording Studio in the Catskill Mountains working on a self-titled debut, slated for release on Motéma Music on Friday, June 9. DeJohnette says that after recording, they sifted through the material, picking out what they thought best captured the feel of the area while looking backward and toward the future. Recording in the Catskills informed the album, as well.
“It affected it a lot,” he says. “We were up in the valley, where you could see the mountains. The studio we had was really nice. Both Johns and I were in the one big room, and Larry was in an isolation booth. It was kind of reminiscent of how the Band recorded up here, which was the Music From Big Pink, the first album they released that was done in a house. There were kind of timeline threads connected to it all. It just had a great, nice magic to it.”
In addition to the covers, the players also penned some of their own tunes for the album and did some collective improvising on the title track. The song was done the way Bitches Brew was done, DeJohnette says, with the tape rolling, capturing improvisations and grooves as they unfolded.
There's some stellar playing throughout the album. DeJohnette calls Medeski "the wizard of the keyboards. He can play funk, he can play straight ahead, out there – runs the gamut."
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About Scofield, DeJohnette says, "He’s one of a kind, man. He’s got such a strong distinctive voice. He knows how to tell a story and make the guitar sing and talk. He does all that stuff."
As for Grenadier, "he really anchors the music: great sound, great choice of notes, great concept and a really great team player," says DeJohnette. "He's a lot of fun to play with. A great listener and a supportive player which we both enjoy doing. When it’s time to solo, we do that, too, and take care of business there, too."
DeJohnette, who's also a pianist, says his approach to the drums is an orchestra approach.
"I see the drums as orchestra, just like piano is an orchestra," DeJohnette says. "I see myself as a colorist. That’s how I approach it."
Hudson: DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 11, Chautauqua Auditorium, 303-442-3282, $40-$58.