Laurence Hobgood

Left to My Own Devices

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For Laurence Hobgood's debut recording as a leader, he has chosen the solo piano format. It's a challenge for the most skilled of performers, but for the clearly brilliant Hobgood, it all seems as pure and natural as the driven snow of his native Chicago. Ideas easily tumble forth, rearrangements of standards sound renewed and revived, while the original material he plays is infused with a playful intensity and in many instances classical quality. His regular running mate vocalist Kurt Elling appears on four selections as crooner, wise man or surreal romantic soothsayer. Meanwhile it is Hobgood, as impressive a player as there is anywhere, who commands total attention. "It Could Happen to You" is usually played introspectively, but Hobgood infuses it with a buzzing, hyperactive, and minimalist deconstruction, astounding on all levels. Brittle phrases stopped and started, then furiously improvised, is the hallmark for Thelonious Monk's "Panonica," and he does fellow Chicagoan Ed Peterson's "The Vocal Tune" (it's an instrumental) with a kinetic bounce and truly amazing technique. Not completely bent on pyrotechnics, the pianist uses a lean, horse loping bluesy pace for "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear from Me," employs tiny and tender arpeggiated stair step chords for Lerner & Lowe's "The Heather on the Hill," is patient and pristine during "Say It" (Over & Over Again), is reverent and hymnal on "The Inconstant Lover," goes baroque on the David Onderdonk waltz "Cycle," and is spooky and dark for "Witchcraft." The songs with Elling range from a pensive "The Waltz," the classic barroom theme "Goin' Back to Joe's," two-chord song of finality "The Masquerade Is Over," and the straight boogie "Lovesick Blues" with Elling's purposefully strained and campy whine. A solid, complete, and whole project fully realized and executed, it's great to hear Hobgood with and without his bossman Elling, and more so an auspicious debut that should be sought by all fans of contemporary jazz piano.

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