CD reviews: 20-04-09

Laurence Hobgood: When The Heart Dances (Naim NAIMCD112)
There have been many pleasures discovering the singing and recordings of Kurt Elling, and one of them is discovering his pianist and musical director, Laurence Hobgood.

In some ways, the arranger brain and ear for beauty he revealed in his accompaniments reminded me from the start of Alan Broadbent, pianist and often arranger with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, so it feels rather neat that for this new disc under his own name Hobgood is partnered by Haden.

They open with a tune you know – or do you? You have to go to the cover to confirm that it is, indeed, Que Sera Sera, so fresh, dark and rich are the chord voicings Hobgood has chosen that the bright, shiny Doris Day tune seems rather trite by comparison (although, as she sang it in a Hitchcock film, you could say the darkness was inherent).

The range of the pianist’s own compositions here is broad indeed, with Sanctuary sounding like it could be a solo jazz piano of a rock hit you had forgotten, while the title song has a cascading loveliness and thoroughly apt, lightly tripping tune. It already sounds like a standard.

The finale is particularly well chosen – Hobgood clearly shares with the late Don Grolnick a taste for mixing flavours of blues and soul in with the jazz, and The Cost Of Living is one of Don’s finest compositions.

Oh, and there’s a guest, too. Mr Elling pops into the studio to wrap his larynx around Haden’s First Song, Stairway To The Stars and Ellington’s Daydream. His sliding and swooping around and into the notes of the Haden song must have delighted no end the veteran bassist, whose solo here is the musical equivalent of exquisitely carved and elementally weathered granite.

There are many other delights here, which you will discover for yourself. The sound of the recording is as effortlessly natural as we have come to expect from the Naim label, and this is also a disc which goes on revealing new insights and nuances with each listen.

Dave O’Higgins Quintet: Sketchbook (JAZZIZIT JITCD0950)
There’s something about twin tenor albums that makes the heart swell and prompts the hand to reach for a spirit-filled tumbler. The other tenor in this band is special guest Eric Alexander.

The man who brought them together is drummer Kristian Leth, while James Pearson is on piano and Arnie Somogyi is on bass. The band had played three nights at Ronnie Scott’s and then went straight into a studio and did this live. As a result there is great energy and a directness that too much preparation would have spoilt.

The tunes range from originals to ones by Rollins, Tyner and Gillespie. Each tenor gets a solo slot, and they are suitably eloquent, but it is, of course, the jousting numbers which get the listener jumping round the room.

Both men are great at speed, Alexander having the slightly hoarser tone and a great facility in playing with the tone of differently fingered notes, while O’Higgins just bubbles over with the joy of playing and isn’t averse to a little tricky fingering himself. Just try Frith Street Blues for that real twin tenor intoxication.

It’s tempting to overlook the rhythm team on a date like this but Pearson, especially, is in cracking form.

Wynton Marsalis: He And She (Blue Note 10331)
The trumpeter muses on the courtship between men and women and the waltz in his characteristically timeless fashion, going back to Ragtime New Orleans, taking inspiration from how Elvin Jones would play 3/4 time and a whole lot of stations in between.

He introduces many of the pieces with short bits of his He And She poem, stressing that “it’s a man talking, but the person who delivers the universal truth of the matter is a woman”, before he draws it all together in a final declaration of the whole.

The music is, naturally, often startling – just try the sticks on side of snare interplay at the end of Schoolboy – and ranges stylistically far and wide, back and forth.Walter Blanding is on saxophones, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass and Ali Jackson on drums. This being a time signature-linked set, Jackson is linchpin and a perfectly oiled one he is, too, bringing great subtlety to the beats which move effortlessly between waltz and shuffle.

Marsalis continues to search out new and original paths and then throws himself and his band down them with such a whole-hearted sense of adventure. I can’t help feeling that the more intimate sessions he has been doing since he joined Blue Note might just be looked back on as some of his best ever.

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/ Joey Baron: Dream Dance (CamJazz PCM 7815-2)
A piano trio every bit as eloquent as the Jarrett Standards crew, and with a healthy back catalogue by now.

Pieranunzi seems to be able to do everything – from hard swinging, to Evans-like dreamy reflection, to sunshiney southern Italian, to neoclassical formalism. Johnson, who played with Evans, knows just how to complement a pianist, and Baron has always been the most musical of drummers.

This is a programme of all Pieranunzi tunes and they cover many moods and emotions. The strength of the material, the individual prowess of the players but most important of all, the near-telepathic interplay which unites the band, make this a rich listen indeed.

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