The only people who should be surprised that Bruce Hornsby recorded a jazz album are those who only see him in the context of mega-hits like "The Way It Is" or "Mandolin Rain." Hornsby's music has always had jazz at its foundation; it's what set his songs apart from the impersonal‚ synth-heavy sound that permeated the music of the '80s.
That said‚ it says a lot about Hornsby's commitment to Camp Meeting that he teamed up with players as heavyweight as Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride. DeJohnette encouraged Hornsby to take this step‚ and there was no way the Hall of Fame drummer was going to expect anything less than Hornsby's A-game. The pianist doesn't shrink from the challenge.
The album begins with "Questions and Answers‚" an unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition. Coleman's music is not simple stuff‚ and Hornsby battles from the jump‚ working through staggering progressions before he embarks on a fast-paced‚ swinging melody. He gets through it with no scars‚ driven by DeJohnette's furious counter-soloing and McBride's driving bass line. DeJohnette brings energy and drama to every tune he touches‚ and McBride's solos on Miles Davis' "Solar" and the Hornsby original "Stacked Marcy Possum" illustrate why he is considered one of the best bassists working today.
Hornsby doesn't take the easy road anywhere‚ tackling Coltrane ("Giant Steps")‚ Monk ("Straight‚ No Chaser") and Bud Powell ("Un Poco Loco") with equal success. Hornsby's take on Keith Jarrett's "Death and the Flower" comes from a place that understands the power of a single‚ echoing note‚ and shows his love of Bill Evans' work.
The original compositions are where Camp Meeting falls short for me. The solos are more than capable‚ but the melodies are all too familiar; I kept waiting for Hornsby to start singing about rain or riverboats or the girl that got away. Though he has collaborated with artists like Pat Metheny‚ Ornette Coleman and Branford Marsalis‚ this is Hornsby's first attempt at an all-jazz album‚ so some leeway must be granted. But to move forward‚ Hornsby should learn from the legends he covers and not only think outside the box‚ but walk away from it altogether.