“The piano keyboard is perhaps the greatest early multi-tasking invention,” explains Laurence Hobgood. “Think about it, all the piano’s predecessors (with the limited exception of the guitar’s antecedents) fit into one of three categories: blown into, strummed/bowed or beaten, and in general were designed to produce only one note at a time. Moreover, the genius of the keyboard is its reflection/embodiment of the musical system up to that point – the seven ‘church’ modes are laid out as logically as possible, admittedly prejudicial in favour of C major.”
As this listener awaited the dynamic duo to start their set, an employee informed us that the Winter Jazz Club was a “listening room”, and that they wanted to keep it that way. Dimly lit, with four grounding columns flanking the stage, the evening had been set not just for something fantastic, but something intimate and raw, leaving us emotionally spent by the performance close.
Australia isn’t exactly a new destination for Laurence Hobgood. The American pianist has toured here close to a dozen times, playing in clubs and concert halls, in small-group settings and with symphony orchestras. What’s new this time is the billing, which features Hobgood’s own name. For almost two decades, the pianist worked with the celebrated vocalist Kurt Elling (as Elling’s pianist, musical director and co-producer).
It is now four and a half years since the 18-year partnership between pianist LAURENCE HOBGOOD and vocalist Kurt Elling came to an end. The pianist has several new projects, and will be doing dates with his trio in the UK and Australia in April. He explained the background to Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: Can I clear up one uncertainty (of mine): are you now a Chicagoan or a New Yorker?
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.