Jazz supergroup or best neighbourhood cover band ever?
With Hudson, it’s hard to tell. The repertoire—Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow”, the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek”, Bob Dylan’s ever-timely “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”—skews toward the latter. But you’d have to live in a fairly rarefied zone to find drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield, bassist Larry Grenadier, and keyboardist John Medeski running through ’60s classics in your local dive bar—unless you’ve settled in the general vicinity of Woodstock, New York, like the four musicians named here.
The region, DeJohnette says in a telephone interview with the Georgia Straight, has the highest proportion of artists per capita of anywhere in the United States. It’s also been the retreat of choice for New York City musicians ever since Dylan fled Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, with the drummer joining that exodus not long after.
“The Butterfield Blues Band was up here,” DeJohnette explains. “Hendrix was here; Dylan was here. They were immersed in this area, and they were here for the same reason we were here; it gave us peace of mind and the creative spirit to write and compose.”
Hudson’s self-titled debut surveys 50 years of that Hudson Valley creativity, and there’s a story behind every song. “Cripple Creek”, for instance, made the cut because of DeJohnette’s friendship with the late Levon Helm. Two more different drummers would be hard to imagine, with DeJohnette’s quicksilver polyrhythms the polar opposite of Helm’s greasy backbeat, but apparently they hit it off on their first meeting, when the Band and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew–era group shared a double bill at the Hollywood Bowl.
“We did some jamming,” the drummer explains. “And then I got to know Levon and Garth Hudson for many years. I went to Levon’s Midnight Ramble things at his barn and sat in with him there; he always had another set of drums. And Levon was a really soulful guy, the way he played and the way he sang; very down-to-earth and very authentic.”
Things don’t get much more down-to-earth, however, than they do on DeJohnette’s own “Great Spirit Peace Chant”, which speaks to the drummer’s roots, as well as the land where he’s put them down. The piece begins with a whirl of flutes, and then turns into a First Nations chant, reflecting a side of DeJohnette that might surprise those who know him for his work with African-American innovators like Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Herbie Hancock.
“Our family was initially in the Seneca Wolf Clan, which is up near the Cattaraugus Reservation near Buffalo, and I also have Seminole Crow in my bloodline,” he explains, adding that this isn’t the first time he’s explored Indigenous music. “I did an album called Music for the Fifth World some years ago…and a lot of my Native American influences are on that, inspired by my grandmother Twylah Nitsch. She wrote a book called Other Council Fires Were Here Before Ours, in which she talks about different worlds: the first world, second world, third world, fourth world, and the fifth world, with the fourth world being the world of greed and separation, while the fifth world is love and integration.
“Anyway, the ‘Peace Chant’ came to me just as I was walking around my property,” DeJohnette adds. “The whole thing came to me just like you hear it on the record—all the sounds and everything. It was a gift—a gift from Great Spirit.”
Hudson plays the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday (October 18).