ACL Fest Interview: Bruce Hornsby
Viriginia pianist explains the way that it is
On April's Absolute Zero, largely cultivated from his library of cues for Spike Lee films, Bruce Hornsby poeticizes clinical words like isometrics and nucleotides into a mix of post-serialist breakdowns and grounded speculative fiction. The Virginian pianist, 64, carves "Fractals" into love, renders "The Blinding Light of Dreams" visible, and vents "White Noise" through medicinal harmony.
"The music didn't change much when they subsequently became songs," he emails, referring to the cryogenically chilled cues. "Their development into songs mostly involved writing words and melodies over the already-composed music, and then adding musical elements to enhance the songs' impact."
On "Echolocation," Hornsby shuffles the arrangement by stacking the deck with crotales, whistles, fiddle friction, dulcimer pluck, and jug breath. Elsewhere, languid Paul Buckmaster strings relax over and under drummer Jack DeJohnette's swirls and ripples on the title track.
"More and more I look to make a sound I haven't heard before," he writes during a month of research and development at home in Williamsburg. "That search leads me to some interesting (to me) musical places, choices of odd, exotic instruments, and sonic manipulation of more standard sounds."
Seated between an extensive tour and ACL, the pianist is currently hammering the strings of an Absolute Zero sequel, which will include "songs about hackers, drones, atheist hymns, Sisyphean tales, innovation in the early days of the internet, mall workers, and more," he promises.
Since the evergreen empathy of 1986 breakout "The Way It Is," Hornsby's bright vibrations resonate with an abundance of variation and momentum. On recent records, he backs away from solos and moves toward compositional surprise and challenge.
"I'm mostly just trying to write a really good song and present it well," Hornsby writes. "I'm a restless soul and always looking for a new way to move the music to new places, always looking for in-the-moment reinvention of my old music – much to the chagrin of many fans and followers!"