Bruce Hornsby
Bruce Hornsby | Credit: Jim Chapin Photography

The mystery of the latest cross-genre supergroup is answered in the concert listing: “Bruce Hornsby and yMusic present BrhyM.” What’s less obvious is how the three-time Grammy-winning pianist and singer-songwriter and the inventive contemporary chamber group came together.

This month, BrhyM embarks on a West Coast tour in support of its debut album, Deep Sea Vents, released March 1 on the Zappo Productions label. The first two venues are particularly appropriate to the water theme — the Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea on April 4 and Herbst Theatre in the City by the Bay the next night. The tour heads up north to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa on April 7 and then back down south, including an April 10 stop at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks.

Consisting of violinist Rob Moose, trumpet horn player CJ Camerieri, violist Nadia Sirota, flutist Alex Sopp, cellist Gabriel Cabezas, and clarinetist Hideaki Aomori, yMusic has collaborated with indie musicians such as St. Vincent, José González, and Emily King and has performed new works by the likes of Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Caroline Shaw. But it wasn’t until they came into Hornsby’s orbit that they found a seminal creative partner.

yMusic | Credit: Graham Tolbert

“We met, incidentally, at the Eaux Claires [Music & Arts] Festival back in 2016,” Sirota said in a recent phone interview from her home in New York City. She was referring to the Wisconsin gathering co-founded by Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, which ran from 2015 to 2018. “We didn’t actually play together, but Bruce heard us and was really intrigued by the kind of work that we were doing.”

It’s only natural that the open-eared Hornsby would gravitate toward the equally eclectic yMusic. In addition to having Top 40 hits, he’s also worked with bluegrass titan Ricky Skaggs and jazz and classical saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who guests on two Deep Sea Vents tracks. Hornsby was also famously a touring member of the Grateful Dead from 1990–1992 and played in an all-star trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Once mutual admiration was established, yMusic performed at Hornsby’s Funhouse Fest in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2017 and played on his 2019 album Absolute Zero. A brief East Coast tour with Hornsby from late February to early March 2020, pre-BryhM, barely stayed ahead of the pandemic.

“At this point, we were really intrigued by each other musically and wanted to make a connection,” Sirota reflected. Following a classic music-then-lyrics model, the members of yMusic composed and recorded instrumental tracks that they sent to Hornsby, who wrote and sang the lyrics that ended up following an aquatic theme.

Poster art for BrhyM’s West Coast tour

So did Hornsby do some musical reworking along the way? “He just took what we gave him and wrote to it, which is totally amazing,” Sirota explained. “There are some places where we cut four bars here and there. But for the most part, he really was quite literal with the material that we came up with. He took it as a challenge and wrote to it.”

Anyone can write a tune, but the bar is exponentially higher in the classical and new-music worlds, Sirota explained. “Basically, classical music is the only genre in which it’s even worth noting that a bunch of people might get into a room and write music together for themselves,” she noted. “I can definitely speak for myself and say that I felt for a very long time, having been trained in a very classical way, that my role was to be an interpreter and not a creator.

“And one of the real joys of working with yMusic and collaborating with all these incredibly inspiring songwriters like Ben Folds and Paul Simon is they really encouraged us to get off the page and make arrangement decisions in real time and not be stuck to the written score,” she continued. “Paul was actually the one who said, ‘I want to hear what your guys’ music sounds like.’ He encouraged us to take the leap into writing together.”

Formed in 2008, yMusic didn’t start writing its own compositions until over 10 years later, Sirota revealed. YMUSIC, which was released by StorySound Records in May 2023, is the group’s first recording of entirely original compositions.

“There was that same sense of hesitancy when it came to writing our own material. We [had] so enjoyed working with these composers who we came up with, who are the same age as us and are incredibly talented human beings — Andrew Norman, Judd Greenstein, Marcos Balter, and others,” Sirota said. “It’s also been exciting to see their voices develop, and they are part of our DNA now. The way that we write for ourselves is extremely influenced by the way they have figured out how to write for us, this string trio-flute-clarinet-trumpet group.”

BryhM’s upcoming concerts will feature material from Deep Sea Vents plus selections from the Hornsby songbook, which includes pop-rock classics such as “The Way It Is,” “Mandolin Rain,” and “The End of the Innocence” (co-written and recorded by Don Henley). The Hornsby songs will feature rearrangements of orchestral charts by Rob Lewis.

“Whenever you bring new material out in any context, you’re going to get people wishing they were hearing older material,” Sirota acknowledged. “But I feel like what’s really exciting about Bruce Hornsby fans in particular is that they’re open-minded. They’re really willing to listen and go on flights of fancy.

“So we’ve had just a really wonderful warm reception from all of these audiences for music that ranges from totally wacky to totally insane. But chamber music and songwriting at the same time — it's really such a cool blend.”