Van Morrison Would Rather Play Jazz

Van Morrison’s new album is a collaboration with the gifted Hammond B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco.

For rock stars of a certain age, the eventual turn to the Great American Songbook can feel something like an obligation, or a graceful bow goodbye. For Van Morrison, it’s no such thing.

The 72-year-old Irish musician, who was knighted in 2016, has always had roots planted in early jazz, jump blues and midcentury R&B. From the early 1960s, he was playing blues covers and soul offshoots in Belfast garage bands. Since going solo in 1967, he’s kept his ensembles stacked with heavy-duty improvisers, often building something like a rock ‘n’ roll big band, with a formidable horn section.

Last year’s “Versatile” was Mr. Morrison’s first thoroughbred jazz release, a mix of standards and originals from his back catalog played in a jaunty swing. “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” out Friday, takes a similar approach, but it moves with a lot more vigor and conviction.

That’s largely thanks to Mr. Morrison’s co-bandleader, the Hammond B-3 virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco. Leading a quartet, Mr. DeFrancesco stretches out wide beneath the singer’s blustering swagger, often interceding with riffs and jabs of his own. Mr. Morrison sounds less like his old blend of Otis Redding and Seamus Heaney here and — especially on the standards “Miss Otis Regrets” and “Travelin’ Light” — a touch more arch, closer to Elvis Costello. But there’s no questioning the roiling passion in his voice, or his knack for a deftly curled melody.

In a phone interview from London, where he was preparing for a tour in support of the album, Mr. Morrison talked about his lifelong connection to jazz and blues; the joys of working with Mr. DeFrancesco; and, unavoidably, his hatred of interviews just like this one. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.


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