It’s a long way from 1986 and The Way It Is for Hornsby, who has been on a journey of musical diversity for the past 30 years or so. From AOR to the Grateful Dead, to jazzy rock, to bluegrass, to atonal funk, and now a sort of contemporary classical/jazz hybrid, there has not been a dull moment – or record.
At 65, Hornsby is a man comfortable in his own skin these days. He does what he wants to do, plays whatever he wants, however he wants. And man, does he play. His technical skill on piano is nothing short of spectacular and plenty of this was on display in this Friday night performance. Elton and Billy Joel, see this guy for lessons.
YMusic opened this show, a six piece classical group playing short contemporary pieces, a bit strange considering what the crowd was expecting. Some of it was jarring and atonal, but the four minute “songs” were all interesting. They are young proteges of Hornsby’s, combining strings and horns to create a full and creative sound.
Hornsby came out to play ten or so requests he had gotten on various slips of paper before the show. These included A Night on the Town and Fields of Grey, but were mostly deep cuts from his middle period records. As far as I could tell. He freely changed arrangements, melodies and tempos, improvised and soared over the crowd with sparkling and intricate piano solos.
Then Y Music returned to accompany Hornsby on some hits, including “The Way It Is” and a very different sounding “Mandolin Rain”, with a slightly dissonant modern classical arrangement. The highlight was a very poignant “Every Little Kiss” with its haunting Samuel Barber intro on piano. Here the strings were bittersweet and note perfect and the song took on a new elegance without drums and guitar. It has aged very well, as has the man who wrote it. And his journey continues.