East Penn Press

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jazzman Laurence Hobgood hears a melody in his music

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

Laurence Hobgood and his trio brings an innovative, engaging brand of jazz to Allentown Symphony Hall, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, in the “Jazz Upstairs” series in the Rodale Community Room.

Hobgood is noted for his near 20-year collaboration with singer Kurt Elling, a combination that garnered 10 Grammy nominations. He’s also a top-notch jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and producer as well as a Yamaha artist and Grammy winner for his 2009 CD, “Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman.”

Hobgood, both with his own groups and with Elling, has performed in numerous prestigious settings, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Sydney Opera House, and at top-of-the-line jazz festivals such as Montreaux, North Sea, Monterey, Spoleto USA, Newport, among many others. He also performed with Elling at a 2009 State Dinner given at the White House by President Barack Obama.

Hobgood also paired with bassist Charlie Haden for the CD, “When The Heart Dances,” in 2009. His 2013 CD, “Christmas,” was said to be one of the best holiday CDs of that year by the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. The CD is primarily a solo affair with two cameos by Elling.

In a phone interview, Hobgood talks about “the snowballing energy of my writing, arranging, composing” balanced with working “to maintain a very high level of playing” as keeping him quite busy.

That includes Hobgood’s ongoing collaboration with with three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. The pair has produced two CDs to date, “PoemJazz” (2012) and “House Hour PoemJazz II” (2015), and has performed together in concert. Hobgood says there will be more projects for them.

A string quartet venture, Tessetera, is “front and center right now,” according to Hobgood.

“The recorded string quartet project got to a whole different level. They’re all arrangements of iconic pieces.”

The repertoire ranges from Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Hoagie Carmichael to Sting, Joni Mitchell, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Stevie Wonder, among others. The recording has been completed and is set for mastering.

Another recent project is a CD with vocalist Arianna Neikrug, winner of the 2015 Sarah Vaughn International Jazz Vocal Competition. The recording is set for a spring 2018 release on Concord Records.

“Another finished [but unrecorded] project is a classic jazz quintet with Ernie Watt, sax, and an as-yet-to-be-named trumpet player,” says Hobgood. He’s looking for a player whose “sounds and style match with Ernie. My writing style is intricate. It’s got to be the right person.” The new CD will be of Hobgood compositions.

A recent project that should be of most interest to those in the audience at the “Jazz Upstairs” concert is a 2016 trio CD, “Honor Thy Fathers,” that features bassist John Patitucci and trio drummer Kendrick Scott.

Says Hobgood, “The focus [of the January 19 performance] is the ‘Honor Thy Fathers‘ CD plus a few things couldn’t fit on the CD. There will be a lot of standards. I believe in a recognition and celebration of song mentality.

“A lot of jazz right now is almost math-based, pattern-oriented. I’m kind of old-school. I just like recognizable melody. What I like to convey to audience members is that this show is fun. We’re playing to a very high level, but it’s very engaging.”

Joining Hobgood in the Rodale Community Room concert in Allentown will be bassist Matt Clohesy. The Australian-born Clohesy has recorded and-or toured with such notables as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Geoffrey Keezer, Ingrid Jensen, Donny McCaslin, Sean Jones, Eric Alexander, and Maria Schneider, among others.

Maintaining the drum chair will be Jared Schonig. As with Clohesy, he’s played with his share of top jazzers, touring and-or recording with Nicholas Payton, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Donny McCaslin, Darcy James Argue & Secret Society, Fred Hersch, Wycliffe Gordon, Ernie Watts, and more. He also co-leads The Wee Trio, an up and coming group with five CDs to its name.

The trio is slated for a European tour in April.

Hobgood puts it succinctly, “If people aren’t coming to hear me, they should just come to hear these guys play.”

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715