Laurence Hobgood with Charlie Haden and Kurt Elling – When the Heart Dances – NAIM

by | Aug 6, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Laurence Hobgood with Charlie Haden and Kurt Elling – When the Heart Dances – NAIM NAIMCD112, 64:37 ***1/2:

(Laurence Hobgood – piano; Charlie Haden – double-bass (tracks 1-3, 5-8, 10); Kurt Elling – vocals (tracks 3, 6, 10))

Anyone who has followed Kurt Elling’s career should already know pianist Laurence Hobgood, since he has directed Elling’s recordings for fifteen years. Hobgood is much more than an arranger or accompanist, though, as his trio and solo projects prove and he is one of the more underrated jazz pianists of his generation. Hobgood’s new duo album with bassist Charlie Haden, When the Heart Dances, is a representation of his sympathetic, lightly swinging style and melodic skills.This eleven-track outing mixes jazz and pop standards alongside some like-minded originals by Hobgood and his musical partner, Charlie Haden, and as an added incentive Elling is featured on three tunes. The overall result is a lean, trim set enlivened by intimacy, nuance, and musical poetry.

The record intriguingly opens with the Doris Day heirloom, "Que Sera Sera." It may seem an odd choice, but Haden and Hobgood transform the sentimental perennial into an elegant and perceptive rendition. Hobgood turns the melody completely around, masking the original so thoroughly listeners probably won’t recognize the pop hit. Hobgood performs in an introspective mood, picking out each note as conscientiously as a painter putting brushstrokes on an empty canvas, while Haden converses via the low pulse of his double-bass. Hobgood gradually moves up and down the keyboard, adding splashes of emotional hues, blending intricate right-hand patterns with spare left-hand rhythmic variations.

The duo perks up the pace on the title track, one of three Hobgood originals. Hobgood introduces an inviting theme and capers along with an agile tempo, and imparts an affinity for Bill Evans-styled phrasing and harmonic sensitivity. Hobgood and Haden use the melody as a foundation for interwoven improvisation, marked by Haden’s  expressive tone. "Chickoree," one of two Haden originals, also has a lively but low-key bounce, seasoned by Hobgood’s stride-like quality that recalls Nat King Cole’s pre-pop jazz trio material. After about two minutes Hobgood drops out, and Haden supplies a brilliant solo bass sequence. Hobgood and Haden finish the composition in duet fashion, with Hobgood’s final note resonating deeply.

Jazz roots are explored more candidly on a refurbished interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s "New Orleans," which furnishes a blues framework for Hobgood’s  sparse and open embellishments that evoke Ahmad Jamal’s approach to using space and intelligent pacing. Here, every note counts and there is nothing extraneous. Haden exhibits rhythmic and melodic diversity, and capitalizes on the tapered arrangement by providing expanded solo intervals.

The most poignant duo piece is Don Grolnick’s "The Cost of Living," a distinguished ballad which Haden last recorded with Michael Brecker on the late saxophonist’s self-titled 1986 release. Haden and Hobgood manage to produce the full spectrum of emotional territory, from happiness to sorrow and regret to anguish, the sadder feelings echoed by Hobgood’s application of the piano’s lower register and Haden’s superlative use of corresponding bass notes.

Hobgood’s two solo piano excursions, "Sanctuary" and "Leatherwood," are equally captivating. His self-penned "Sanctuary" is part gospel and part pastoral, melding standard jazz improvisation with a spiritual aesthetic, similar to Keith Jarrett’s solo formulations. At over seven minutes in length, "Sanctuary" is the album’s longest piece and grants Hobgood ample opportunity to interact with his muse, delivering sections coursing with highly-developed lyricism without ever suggesting softness or fragility. Hobgood’s "Leatherwood" is a bit more animated and at certain moments has a rustic mannerism. Hobgood showcases a commitment to impressionism, his vision clear and uncluttered, his right hand ringing out quick chord clusters while he discharges diverse left-hand tempos.

Elling fans will no doubt enjoy his vocal contributions. He initially gives Haden’s "First Song" a restrained deliberation, singing with a straightforward temperament that highlights his reverberant voice, but later slides into a higher swell, and shifts into a rueful intonation. Elling is more impulsive on "Stairway to the Stars," where he demonstrates his nonchalance with extended phrases and a sharper sense of charisma, although some may find Elling’s technique overly dramatic or theatrical. The last Elling offering comes during a bluesy translation of Duke Ellington’s ruminative waltz "Daydream," where Elling’s earnestness is paraphrased by Haden’s vesper bass.

Music with discrete details like that found on When the Heart Dances should be heard with a spacious impact. Thankfully, engineer Ken Christianson carefully captures the complete breadth of Haden and Hobgood, who were recorded at the Roy O. Disney Music Hall, using Nagra-45 analog tapes that were then mastered digitally. This recording flawlessly actualizes each artist’s abundant gestures and slightest shading, revealing each musician’s fullness and intensity.

1. Que Sera Sera
2. When the Heart Dances
3. First Song
4. Sanctuary
5. Chickoree
6. Stairway to the Stars
7. New Orleans
8. Why Did I Choose You?
9. Leatherwood
10. Daydream
11. The Cost of Living

— Doug Simpson

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