Bruce Hornsby has assembled a trio of significant merit for his first jazz effort. The rhythm section consists of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack Dejohnette. These two players have an impressive resume of recordings under their belts and bring an enormous level of jazz credentials to the project.
This project, which is Hornsby’s first, but likely not his last, was the idea of Dejohnette and other Hornsby friends who have known for years that Hornsby’s roots are in jazz. Hornsby had majored in jazz studies. Dejohnette and others had been encouraging Hornsby to do a jazz recording. But as Bruce puts it "it was only fear" that prevented him from doing this in the past. With his fear in check, he called McBride and Dejohnette to join him at his studio in Virginia and they embarked on this project.
Camp Meeting is a collection of compositions by some of Hornsby’s favorite jazz composers and features a few originals too. The opening cut is a previously unrecorded Ornette Coleman piece Questions and Answers. Hornsby’s interpretation is fresh and acknowledges Coleman’s style while injecting an adequate dose of Bruce’s own signature. "Charlie, Woody and You" is a Hornsby composition and is an expressive piece that the rhythm section is key to fully realizing the full expression of the composition. On "Solar", a Miles Davis composition, Hornsby’s dynamics are the driver of the song, you hear the signature tempo and dynamics of Bruce. "Death and the Flower" a Keith Jarrett composition is handled with all the sensitivity of Jarrett himself. This song demonstrated Hornsby’s understanding of the jazz dynamic in the style of Jarrett. A highlight of the disc.
"Camp Meeting" the title cut, is a big and full composition in the style of Hornsby. Its almost lyrical quality engages the listener and keeps you interested throughout the piece. Hornsby gets ambitious with his effort on Coltrane’s Giant Steps and in doing so takes that leap of faith and overcomes his fear. You hear the confidence in this song that you don’t hear in some of the other compositions. The energy level is up, and the trio has hooked up.
Whether it is the order in which they recorded the songs, or just how the disc is assembled, the longer you listen, the more you feel comfortable with the music coming out of the trio. Celia is a strongly delivered piece, as are "We'll Be Together", "Stacked Mary Possum". But when Hornsby takes on "Monk and Straight No Chaser" he is asking to be judged by the highest standard. In this regard, one takes away the feeling that it is a good first effort and we all will be looking forward to his continued focus on the jazz genre. The final song "Un Poco Loco/Chant Song" concludes a highly respectable first effort on Hornsby's behalf and one that has to be considered a good foundation for a future series of works in Jazz by Bruce Hornsby. Credit his rhythm section for providing a palette for Hornsby to display his work. McBride and Dejohnette both make significant contributions to the success of Camp Meeting. Their live presentation of the material was worthy of headliner status at the Newport JVC Jazz Festival and the CD is a welcome experiment in listening without fear. I for one look forward to Hornsby the jazz player's future efforts.