For two decades, pianist Laurence Hobgood was best known as accompanist and primary arranger for singer Kurt Elling.
When the two abruptly parted company in 2013, one wondered how Hobgood would go about forging a musical identity of his own.
Singers, after all, stand front and center and, by definition, bask in the spotlight. But how do those who toil just outside it make themselves heard and seen?
Laurence Hobgood Trio: "Honor Thy Fathers" (Circumstantial):
Pianist Hobgood pays homage to his "musical fathers" — including Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Nat King Cole — and in so doing achieves some of the finest playing of an already distinguished career. The sheer beauty of Hobgood's tone and touch are worth savoring, and there's no missing the poetry of his "Sanctuary" (a salute to his father), the joyousness of his approach to rhythm in "Straighten Up and Fly Right" (a tribute to Cole) and the impressionistic canvas of his "The Waltz" (suggesting Evans). Joined by bassist John Patitucci and drummer Kendrick Scott, Hobgood never has sounded better.
It’s easy to hear similarities between Laurence Hobgood’s piano and that of Brad Mehldau, who shares primary influences (Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans). But Hobgood, known for his years as Kurt Elling’s musical director, differentiates himself via another cluster of inspirations: Oscar Peterson, Nat “King” Cole and his own father, theater director Burnet Mclean. These and other mentors are the focus of his radiant trio record Honor Thy Fathers.
When the British singer Barb Jungr was growing up in Manchester, she recalled on Saturday evening, the images on an album cover of “South Pacific” gave her the illusion that a tropical island was a safe, paradisiacal refuge. At Joe’s Pub, where she is performing songs from her new album, “Shelter From the Storm: Songs of Hope for Troubled Times,” Ms. Jungr, in a green silk shirt, shell necklace and black slacks, appeared as Bloody Mary and sang “Bali Hai” with a trio that included the piano virtuoso Laurence Hobgood, Wilson Torres on percussion and Matt Clohesy on bass. These brilliant musicians lifted the performance out of the realm of cabaret and into jazz.
That's when his newest recording, "Honor Thy Fathers," will be released, but Chicago listeners who crowded the Green Mill Jazz Club on Friday night heard a sneak preview of the music (and snapped up advance copies that Hobgood brought along for the occasion).
That Hobgood should offer an early view of the project at the Mill seemed thoroughly appropriate, for he was based in Chicago from 1988 to 2006 and presented some of his most important work in the great old room. It was at the Mill that Hobgood and singer Kurt Elling forged their partnership, both eventually moving to New York, then splitting up abruptly at the end of 2013.
Anyone who has heard Laurence Hobgood already knows that he's one of the most accomplished jazz pianists working today.
But the melodic urgency, tonal sheen and improvisational creativity of his art have reached an apex with "Honor Thy Fathers," a trio album that won't be released until early next year but will be briefly available this weekend at the Green Mill Jazz Club. That's where Hobgood, who thrived in Chicago from 1988 to 2006, will play music from a recording that says a great deal about where he stands in his art and his life.
LAURENCE HOBGOOD: ‘CHRISTMAS’ For the last 20 years, Laurence Hobgood has been known in jazz circles by the company he keeps, as the pianist and musical director for the singer Kurt Elling. The two recently parted ways, which means, for one thing, that Mr. Elling’s focused, bittersweet performances here — on “Song of the Christmas Bells” and Joni Mitchell’s “River” — could be seen as a kind of curtain call. Of course it also means that Mr. Hobgood will increasingly be judged on his own merits, for things like the wintry sparkle of his arpeggios on “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and the rakishness of his digressions on “Twelve Days of Christmas.” For most of this beautifully recorded album, he’s alone at the piano, unspooling solemn reveries after the example of his north star, Keith Jarrett. (Circumstantial, $15.) NATE CHINEN
Chicago listeners already know that Tammy McCann possesses one of the most voluptuously beautiful voices in jazz, but they've never heard her quite the way she sounded Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase.
For the first time McCann was sharing the stage with Laurence Hobgood, an exceptional pianist-arranger whose contributions have significantly changed the context for McCann's art.
Christmas recordings often yield unbearable treacle when it comes to jazz and standards, but this year happens to be an exception.
Thanks to pianists Laurence Hobgood and Ted Rosenthal, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, violinist Joshua Bell and others, music lovers have something to cheer about this season.
Pianist Laurence Hobgood returned to the downtown Los Angeles venue Blue Whale on Nov. 9 with a new West Coast band and a trail of gossip flowing behind him.
In the December issue of DownBeat, an article on Kurt Elling points out that the singer would go on tour soon with a band that does not include Hobgood, his longtime pianist and arranger. Elling, who was voted the top male vocalist in the 2013 DownBeat Readers Poll, has worked with Hobgood for nearly 20 years. On his website, Hobgood posted a link to Howard Reich’s “My Kind of Jazz” column in the Nov. 6 edition of the Chicago Tribune, which confirmed that Elling and Hobgood would be taking an indefinite break.
Laurence's New Project - tesseterra
The tesseterra ensemble is a jazz trio married with string quartet; the repertoire comprises only iconic songs (by artists like Cole Porter; Sting; Hoagie Carmichael; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Joni Mitchell; Stevie Wonder, etc…) set in a cutting edge jazz-classical hybrid that will thrill the serious musician and music lover at the same time.
Honor Thy Fathers
Laurence re-invested himself in the trio format: a new recording, "Honor Thy Fathers" (featuring amazing bassist and drummer John Patitucci and Kendrick Scott), celebrates and pays tribute to some of the jazz trio's most iconic figures (Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, etc.) as well as several of Laurence's personal mentors. These influences have either inspired original compositions or innovative arrangements of classic tunes associated with given artists.
For a more in depth look at why the piano trio holds a never-ending allure, check out Laurence's article, "The Art Of The Trio", published by JazzTimes in 2002 and winner of the ASCAP/Deems Taylor award for the year's outstanding music journalism: