Friday, August 14, 2009

The Balladic Piano Artistry of Laurence Hobgood

As time passes, it's clear that there are a group of pianists active today that belong to a stylistic lineage that goes from Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock (in his acoustic mode) to later Keith Jarrett and on to newer players who add something of their own to the legacy. Laurence Hobgood is one such player and he shows himself to be a formidable practitioner in his own right, especially on his new CD When the Heart Dances (Naim Jazz).

Hobgood has been musical director and pianist for vocalist Kurt Elling for some 15 years. That collaboration has resulted in some superb music. It continues on the CD at hand, since Kurt adds his vocals to a number of songs on the disk. I can't say enough about Kurt. He is a true jazz vocalist and has a superior instrument. He's fabulous and his talents are in good evidence on the title song (written by Charie Haden) and the old warrior Stairway to the Stars.

Speaking of Charlie Haden, his bass blesses this session pretty much throughout. Particularly given the more or less balladic orientation of the set, he plays a crawlingly slow bass accompaniment on most of the selections. Haden has one of the most beautiful bass tones of any player I've ever heard, and as he slows it down, that beauty comes out ever more stunningly. That he is a master has been said many times. He has become ever more profoundly so.

The numbers here alternate between American Songbook standards, jazz standards and interesting originals. The mix works.

In the end, though, it is Laurence Hobgood's piano that makes or breaks this album. Makes is the word. He is consummate pianism personified. Technique is always harnessed to musical ends. His playing is just plain lovely on When the Heart Dances. An incredibly lovely tone. An incredibly lovely note choice.

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