Review: Laurence Hobgood review: On his own terms

MUSIC
THE LAURENCE HOBGOOD TRIO ★★★★
The Jazzlab, Brunswick

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).

When that collaboration came to an end in 2013, it provided an opportunity for Hobgood to finally step into the spotlight as a bandleader on his own terms.

Without a vocalist, the attributes that make Hobgood such a peerless accompanist are pulled into even sharper focus. One is his mastery as an arranger, dressing familiar tunes in striking new clothes without disguising or dismissing their essential qualities. Another is his determination never to let virtuosity overtake musicality. His facility as a pianist may be awe-inspiring, but you can be sure that every phrase – every note – is there for a
reason.

His precise musical vision requires extremely attentive bandmates, and at the Jazzlab, Melbourne musicians Sam Anning (on bass) and Danny Fischer (drums) did a remarkable job negotiating the intricate arrangements and allowing them to breathe. The repertoire was drawn mainly from Hobgood’s 2016 album Honor Thy Fathers, where the pianist pays tribute to his musical and personal mentors. On Saturday, the trio offered a buoyant
7/4 strut through Nat Cole’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, an artfully elongated melody line on the Beatles’ Blackbird, and an unusually dynamic take on Ahmad Jamal’s Poinciana.

Just as impactful were Hobgood’s originals: the lovely, gospel-tinged homage to his father Sanctuary; the soulful saunter of The Road Home; and One Version of Happiness, which – like many of the night’s most memorable tunes – exuded an air of ebullience that felt as warm as a loved one’s embrace.

By Jessica Nicholas
29 April 2018 — 3:28pm