Stories » Laurence Hobgood unveils a daring new project at Green Mill / Chicago Tribune

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Laurence Hobgood unveils a daring new project at Green Mill / Chicago Tribune

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For two decades, pianist Laurence Hobgood was best known as accompanist and primary arranger for singer Kurt Elling. When the two abruptly parted company in 2013, one wondered how Hobgood would go about forging a musical identity of his own.

Singers, after all, stand front and center and, by definition, bask in the spotlight. But how do those who toil just outside it make themselves heard and seen? Hobgood - like Elling, a former Chicagoan living in New York - addressed the question boldly with "Honor Thy Fathers," one of the best recordings of 2016. Here the luster of Hobgood's tone, fluidity of his technique and originality of his jazz-trio conception could be savored without distraction. Friday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club, the pianist made another striking move with the world premiere of Tesseterra, a project for trio and string quartet. By arranging what he called "iconic tunes" for this instrumentation, Hobgood took a rather large gamble. For what could be worse than hearing classic pop songs of various eras subjected to jazz-meets-the-classics cliches?

Hobgood, however, is too savvy an arranger to ask string players to sustain easy-listening chords, while his trio riffs freely. Instead, he has crafted deeply considered arrangements, no two alike, each providing multiple twists and turns. To hear this music played by Hobgood's trio and a Chicago string contingent was to realize how much the pianist has developed during the past 20-plus years. (PHOTO: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)