New York’s Hudson Valley has inspired much art through the years, from the Hudson River School of painters in the mid-19th century to Bob Dylan and the Band in the late 1960s, and the Woodstock music festival of 1969 is celebrated in one of Joni Mitchell’s best-known songs.
Now the region has inspired Hudson, a collaborative quartet of top-flight jazz stars who have settled in the region. The Celebrity Series of Boston brings them to the Berklee Performance Center Sunday to perform music from their eponymous new album.
The group consists of NEA Jazz Master and drummer Jack DeJohnette, whose 75th birthday led him to propose the project; three-time Grammy winner John Scofield on guitar; John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood fame on keyboards; and Larry Grenadier, best known for his work in Brad Mehldau’s trio, on bass. “Hudson” was Grenadier’s second recent album dedicated to the region, released two months after “The Upstate Project,” which was co-led by his wife, vocalist Rebecca Martin, and yet another Hudson Valley neighbor, pianist-composer-arranger Guillermo Klein.
“Hudson” covers a range of music, with an emphasis on subtle subversiveness. It opens with the title track, a free improvisation anchored by the sense of groove pervading the disc. There are covers of each of the above-named musical artists and another who performed at that original Woodstock festival, Jimi Hendrix. Scofield contributes two straight-ahead originals, “El Swing” and “Tony Then Jack,” the latter named for DeJohnette having succeeded Tony Williams as Miles Davis’s drummer.
DeJohnette’s own three pieces add a sense of timeliness. “Dirty Ground” was co-written with Bruce Hornsby for DeJohnette’s 2012 album “Sound Travels,” dedicated to his late Woodstock neighbor Levon Helm and survivors of Hurricane Katrina. DeJohnette sings Hornsby’s defiant lyrics on the “Hudson” version, his raspy voice adding to his believability as the character portrayed in the song.
“I had a cold,” DeJohnette explains by phone. “It actually lent itself to that piece.”
On the recording, DeJohnette overdubbed his vocal. In concert, he’s been doing as Helm used to: singing and drumming simultaneously. “It took some practice,” DeJohnette notes.
“Great Spirit Peace Chant” came to DeJohnette one day as he walked the woods on his property with a friend. “It came to me like that, the way you hear it,” he says. “I’ve asked Native American friends, ‘What does that mean?’ And they said there are sounds and syllables that don’t necessarily represent the language, but they go outside, freestyle.”
DeJohnette, Medeski, and Grenadier sing the chant as a round, and the group overdubbed wood flutes on the recording. In concert, audiences have chanted with them.
“Song for World Forgiveness” builds slowly to its lovely, unhurried melody. The protest here is confined to its title, but in conversation DeJohnette drives home his point.
“Until we truly, truly ask for real forgiveness for so many terrible things that humans have done, to each other and to the environment and to this planet, we’re just going to be going around in a maze of divisiveness,” he says. “We should be celebrating our diversity. That’s our strength, you know? Our weakness is our being divided.”
Today’s heightened political turbulence is reminiscent of when DeJohnette, in the early ’70s, followed those rockers to Woodstock. As proof, he recommends the recent documentary about James Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro.”
“You see that documentary footage of people getting sprayed with hoses and [attacked by] dogs and getting beat up,” he says. “It’s the same thing. Standing Rock, that’s what they did — sic dogs on the Native American protesters.
“It’s unsustainable. It can go on for a while, and I’m sure there’ll be some more not-so-great things happening. The status quo don’t want people to come together for the greater good. So there’s always devices to keep people at each other, knowing that people’s best strength is when they work together for something bigger than themselves and for the greater good, not for themselves.”
That works for bands as well. According to Grenadier, Hudson’s cover of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” exemplifies the quartet working together for the greater good, the musicians moving spontaneously from Scofield’s interpretation of the melody to the unplanned free section that defines the track.
“The way we play music, jazz musicians in particular, is a real political scenario,” Grenadier explains. “Somebody steps forward and says something, and then it’s commented upon and you pick it up or you go to the next thing. It’s always that in some way, and I think our interpretation of that tune shows off that side of the band that is the most unique.
“It’s four people with really strong voices, but those voices are constantly listening and trying to make their voice blend with the other voices and feed off of it, take it to another place. There’s no hesitancy, because everybody has so many strong ideas. So it’s a high level of listening, with everybody’s got something to say. I love that.”