Hudson’s jammy tendencies come to the forefront

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 10:10:56 PM. The jazz fusion supergroup featuring John Medeski and John Scofield went long at Hamilton.

Maybe half the audience — and it seemed less — clapped on Tuesday night when the Hamilton’s announcer asked if they’d heard Hudson’s self-titled CD. Many if not most, then, were there based on the reputations of the jazz fusion supergroup’s members: guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They may not have been prepared for the night of careening, often experimental jams they got.

Well, the jamming they probably expected. Medeski is one third of the fusion trio Medeski Martin & Wood, who’ve found their greatest success with jam-band audiences; Scofield, a veteran of Miles Davis’s 1980s bands, has leaned increasingly in that direction. The set opened with Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow,” the kind of extended guitar-and-groove workout that MMW and Sco fans have come to expect. Medeski’s Hammond organ solo offered hints of going further out, with harsh textures and challenges to the groove that Grenadier (best known for his work with Brad Mehldau) and DeJohnette (another Miles alum, and one of jazz’s greatest living drummers) were holding down so matter-of-factly. But it was in keeping with Medeski’s established style, avant flirtation but with all in good fun.

Then came the shock wave. The group-authored “Hudson” was a weird, even spooky hunk of psychedelia. Scofield and Medeski, now on synthesizer, held a dialogue, sometimes an overlap, of the darkest, strangest, most abrasive sounds and figures their instruments could conjure. Scofield’s “El Swing” indeed swung, but moodily, even manically in DeJohnette’s hands. Grenadier’s solo had the feeling of a cocaine jag: unnaturally taut and unable to stop babbling.

The mood didn’t settle there, either. Hudson is named for the Hudson Valley, where all four musicians live, and they also explore the music that came out of that region. This includes Bob Dylan — “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” was both poignant and abstract, Scofield transmogrifying it beyond any touchstone — and the Band, to whose “Up on Cripple Creek” the quartet attached the same mellow, genial funk as the original. They also played another original, DeJohnette’s “Dirty Ground,” in that same mold, the 75-year-old drummer adding a lead vocal like a smoothed-out Ray Charles.

It was superbly done, and a revelation even if one did know the album. But jam-band culture asserted itself in one unfortunate aspect: the show went on too long. Its encore, a 17-minute take on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” pushed the set to the two-hour mark. Fittingly, Scofield’s guitar sounded very like Jerry Garcia’s on the tune. Combined with DeJohnette’s insistent ride cymbal and a timpani-like rumble from Grenadier, it became a drama — but one that stretched and repeated itself for little reason except indulgence.

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