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Bruce Hornsby: Here Come the Noise Makers

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Long before he was playing backstage b-ball games with backup mates the Range-and scoring hits with 1986’s “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain”-the tall, hulking Bruce Hornsby was a budding jazz pianist, albeit one with sugar-coated hooks beating on the walls of his brain. As the pop years wore out and his popularity waned, Hornsby would become increasingly enigmatic-but never artistically frustrated. One day, he could visit his Williamsburg, Va., birthplace and whip up some Southern-funky roots rock; the next he’d be filling in for late keyboardist Brent Mydland and jamming with the Grateful Dead; and the next, he would show up at Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak-breaking game and join Branford Marsalis in a Blue Note version of the national anthem.

On the double-disc Here Come the Noise Makers: Live 98/99/00, the 46-year-old Hornsby plays everything from Bud Powell to Bob Dylan to George Gershwin-plus he tosses a bit of his own stuff onto the set list. No matter what the genre-rock, country, jazz, classical-almost every one of the 18 tracks breaks down into a seven-minute-plus free-form jam (piano, accordion, guitar, percussion) that Medeski, Martin & Wood could groove to. When Hornsby gets blissfully lost in his distinctive piano solos for three, four, five minutes at a time-check out the gorgeous, winding “The Road Not Taken” and “The End of the Innocence”-it’s well worth your while (whether stoned out of your gourd or not) to stick around for the blissful journey.