Live Jazz: The Laurence Hobgood Trio at Cafe Metropole

By Michael Katz

Laurence Hobgood provided a perfect antidote to a rainy weekend at Café Metropole Friday evening, displaying his panoply of talents as musician, composer and arranger over two sets of intriguing and engaging music. Hobgood is best known as pianist and arranger for Kurt Elling; his presence in LA over the past two weekends was centered around the Grammy awards. Elling’s Dedicated To You won for Best Jazz Vocal, and Hobgood was nominated for his superb arrangements on that album. Ably abetted by two outstanding young musicians, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Kevin Kanner, Hobgood presented a program almost entirely of his own compositions.

“When The Heart Dances,” the title song from his most recent CD, started as an elegy, reminiscent briefly of Bill Evans, though Hobgood’s playing isn’t clearly derivitive of anyone. He weaves rich chordal structures into his pieces, dashing off   archipeggios and then folding them back into the lyrical structure. Hamilton Price had a crisp bass solo in the opening number, and Kevin Kanner established himself as the   composition picked up pace.

Hobgood transitioned into his only borrowed tune of the set, a brooding, off-minor interpretation of the fifties’ hit song, “Que Sera, Sera.” Hobgood’s soulful playing fit snugly into the surroundings of Café Metropole’s spare brick backdrop, with comic book and cartoon art on the walls suggesting a touch of whimsy.

Hobgood followed with two more originals, “The Princess and the Gentle Giant,” a piece from the ‘80s, and “Sanctuary” from the new CD. It’s worth noting that composition on the jazz spectrum can run anywhere from a single infectious line surrounded by a combo’s solo flights to the complex orchestrations of an Ellington or Mingus. Hobgood’s music, taking full advantage of the trio format, is richly complex, launching his listeners on a journey, keeping them rapt as he moves from dark, percussive beginnings, sliding into bright side canyons like a rafter searching for a line through tumultuous rapids. “Sanctuary” was done as a solo piece on the new album, but as Hobgood noted, working  with the trio gave him the opportunity to explore the piece in a fresh way.

The second set, all original compositions except “Esperanza” by Vince Mendoza, featured mostly tunes from a less recent CD, Crazy World. The opening number, “Window Man,” began quietly, ballad-like, simmering into a more percussive tone and  proceeding into dynamic interplay with bassist Price. “Prayer For The Enemy” was a waltz that segued into a bluesy tone.

Bassist Price and drummer Kanner were sparkling throughout. Having had only one previous set to work out these lengthy, layered compositions with Hobgood, they were remarkably efficient and creative in their own soloing. Price, particularly as the second set continued,  exhibited a tone and dexterity that recalled Eddie Gomez, excelled in the playful “Smuggler,” named for a mountain bike trail in Aspen.  Kanner contributed his own bright rhythms, with creative use of brushes in the sets’ quieter moments.

With the continuing success of Kurt Elling, Laurence Hobgood will clearly have plenty of challenging work in front of him. But audiences should leap at the chance to hear him leading a trio in these richly engaging compositions. He’ll continue tonight at Café Metropole with special guest Ernie Watts.

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