Laurence Hobgood Trio – Honor Thy Fathers
(Circumstantial Productions CP006. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)
“This is a very special project for me,” writes Laurence Hobgood. “After many years of evolving my personal style of composing and arranging for others [..] this represents my first full opportunity to ply that craft on my own behalf.”
Hobgood, who worked with Kurt Elling for around two decades, took a pair of top-flight collaborators – John Patitucci on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums – into a studio in New York for three days in December 2014. Nine months later, Honor Thy Fathers was launched at the Green Mill in Chicago and then later at the Jazz Standard in New York. And here it is.
Hobgood has thought deeply about the art of the trio. In fact a very perceptive article he wrote about it in 2002 received an ASCAP award for music journalism (LINK BELOW). Honor Thy Fathers is a project which has clearly been gestating for many years, and – in the most positive sense of that expression – it is work on the artist’s own terms. These are not three-minute tracks for a radio plugger, or for a casual listen while doing something else. In fact four of the album’s eight tracks are over nine minutes long, presenting stories which keep unfolding naturally, and they need and deserve the listener’s full attention.
There are moments of celebration: the arrangement of Straighten Up and Fly Right is in honour of Nat King Cole. Oscar Peterson (“the first jazz record I ever owned”) gets a doff of the cap in a tightly organised trio version of a wonky-metre Give Me the Simple Life, with an insistent, against-the-grain ostinato from Patitucci. There is more up-tempo wizardry when the spirit of Stevie Wonder breezes in, on the track If its Magic, a number which gives Kendrick Scott a chance to stretch out. The Road Home, in honour of Charlie Haden, seems shot through with the blues of Chicago, where Hobgood spent many formative years.
The core mood of the album, however, is much more reflective. The opener is Sanctuary, dedicated to the pianist’s father. One of Hobgood’s strengths is to be able to settle and define a mood from the very first touch of the keys, which he does to particularly great effect in the delightfully rubato solo introduction to this track (there is another, equally poetic one to introduce the last track). Another fascinating skill is the “leave,” the sudden drop in arm-weight and volume which grabs the attention every time. It is as if the things that really need to be said can only be whispered. This is very much to the fore in Triptich, an original, which is dedicated to the classical composer Salvatore Martirano (1927-95). It also has wonderful explorations of the natural resonances of the piano.
Perhaps the emotional heart of this CD is The Waltz. It is the oldest of the originals on the album, and is dedicated to Bill Evans. There are parts where the story is told patiently and carefully, where there is space and silence, into which a range of intriguing phrases or melodic fragments are brought in like independent objects to be considered. But these are contrasted with passages of involved and dense counterpoint where there is no let-up. There is one quite remarkable continuous and concentrated passage of arpeggios, from [5:38] to [6:08], which any pianist will want to transcribe. Here Hobgood reaches exactly the “new levels of gyrating complexity” that he describes in his 2002 article.
|L-R: Kendrick Scott, Laurence Hobgood, John Patitucci
Photo credit: Carl Hobgood
One senses a strong imperative throughout this album to bring the things that are important to him as an artist into coherent shape. Saul Bellow, another Chicagoan, wrote in Seize the Day, “A man is only as good as what he loves.” Hobgood has not only got to the point where he knows exactly what he does love, he has also acquired all of the technical and expressive means to convey it. For its variety of texture and tone and style, for its subtlety and depth, this album is guaranteed to reward many concentrated listenings.
Laurence Hobgood is currently on tour with Barb Jungr. TOUR DATES.