Thursday, April 13, 2017

Laurence Hobgood and two young colleagues play a fascinating trio set at the Jazz Kitchen

A commanding presence at the keyboard, Laurence Hobgood is not otherwise much given to commandments. Distinguished
Besides his activity as a gigging pianist, Laurence Hobgood devotes much time to writing.
for collaboration as an arranger and composer, the Chicago-based pianist was long known as the artistic right-hand man to the singer Kurt Elling. One is not concerned with handing down stone tablets when one consistently has "plays well with others" checked off on the report card.

Hobgood borrowed Ten Commandments language for last year's trio release, "Honor Thy Fathers," taking it on a Midwestern tour that brought him and two young sidemen to the Jazz Kitchen Wednesday night. The title indicates the series of tributes the CD contains to mentors, often pianists, who have been available to Hobgood either personally or by reputation and recordings. In the long set he offered with colleagues Ben Ralston on bass and Stephen Boegehold on drums, the pianist invariably passed his homages through a personal creative filter.

For example, he prefaced a performance of "Give Me the Simple Life" with a brief demonstration of how Oscar Peterson used to play it in the Canadian's signature manner of juggernaut swing. Then Hobgood proceeded to offer a much different approach, not nearly as thick-textured as Peterson's, with a touch of bitonality and, after the bass solo, a long coda in which the trio shifted into a loping meter evoking cowboy songs, in an obvious nod to the song title.

Speaking of (and through) other genres than jazz, Hobgood is invariably fluent. He declared his loyalty to jazz updates of the post-Great-American-Songbook repertoire before using a reflective opening cadenza to set up the trio's performance of "Wichita Lineman," one of  Glen Campbell's huge hits.

It's likely that Hobgood's rapport with the late Charlie Haden stemmed from his openness to musical traditions outside the jazz mainstream. One of the Jazz Kitchen set's most attractive pieces was "The Road Home," a tribute to the bassist who embraced both his country musical roots and the post-bop avant garde.

"The Road Home" has a strong, funky bass line (thundered out nicely by Hobgood and Ralston) underlying a tune that rolls out like a country ballad. Hobgood's tribute insight is well-grounded: In some sense, all of Charlie Haden derives from his solo on "Ramblin'" with Ornette Coleman in 1960's "The Change of the Century." He quotes, or at least paraphrases, "Ol' Dan Tucker" near the end of this solo, and the reference amounts almost to an artistic credo, in light of the bassist's subsequent career.

Other tributes using other artists' tunes had the same independence. Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" was treated to a lickety-split treatment, fully engaged with the tune but very much tailored to this trio's virtuosity. Ralston tossed off some great fast-walking accompaniment, and Boegehold contributed a typically protean solo.

Hobgood seems to like long codas, and they have the effect of extending the affection offered by his statements and elaboration of the main theme. The tribute to Ahmad Jamal focused on "Poinciana," the nimble version that stands out for most people from the best-selling "Live at the Pershing" LPs.  The trio continued its creative approach through all the repetitive figures of the coda, keyed to more adept drumming by Boegehold. Nat "King" Cole was saluted with a soaring version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right."

And in this time when so many are seeking "Sanctuary," the trio offered Hobgood's hymnlike composition of the same name. The tune itself opened its arms wide, and the trio's dynamic shading was admirable. Hobgood casts a wide net, and the catch is abundant.