Laurence Hobgood: When The Heart Dances (2009)
The old adage of "less is more" shows up more than it should, but every now and then proves itself remarkably apt in the world of music. When The Heart Dances features pianist Laurence Hobgood scaling back the typical rhythm trio to just himself and bass maestro Charlie Haden. And while it's hardly the first time the setup has been tried, it works to great effect with these two.
The result is mellow but nuanced music. An opener like "Que Sera Sera" might leave some apprehension with an album full of pop lounge tunes. But even before the first chorus is played and the tune continues to develop, layers emerge like new tints. Hobgood plays with an introspective style that reaches for expression through all eighty- eight keys, while Haden speaks as loud as ever through the thrum of low strings. Together, they add and subtract, interacting like primary colors in a painting.
There is nothing hurried here; the music emerges slowly, but when it comes, it's fully formed and confident. Even when Hobgood unveils a brisk, technical line of notes, he often pauses on a single key and lets it sink, before stepping off into another flurry of black and white. Two lone piano excursions suggest the upbeat, joyous gospel influence of Keith Jarrett, including the playful "Sanctuary," which cuts loose on a tank full of inspiration.
Guest singer Kurt Elling, who benefits from Hobgood on his own recordings, brings his discreet baritone to "First Song," "Stairway to The Stars," and "Daydream." His addition doesn't detract from the wonderful, pared-down feeling of the session, wringing a little extra edge out of each tune, whether through crescendo, heart-cracking intonation of lyrics on "First Song," or a sudden sweep of falsetto at the end of "Stairway."
Minimalism seems to be a theme of the albuma big bang without a big band or big charts. Formed at low tempo, these songs seem to drift together out of thin air. Certain tracks might be entirely improvised if it weren't for frameworks that sounds so familiar.
One such melody is "The Cost of Living," a beautiful Don Grolnick ballad which Haden last recorded with Michael Brecker on the saxophonist's great, self-titled 1986 Impulse! debut as a leader. As the last tune here, it carries the weight of everything from sadness to joy and nostalgia to pain, and these feelings develop with each note that Hobgood wrings sweetly out. So it goes for the entire album. Whether one, two or three musicians, they pull beautiful music from thin air, to create an enjoyable experience.
Track Listing: Que Sera Sera; When The Heart Dances; First Song; Sanctuary; Chickoree; Stairway To The Stars; New Orleans; Why Did I Choose You?; Leatherwood; Daydream; The Cost Of Living.
Personnel: Laurence Hobgood: piano; Charlie Haden (1-3, 5-8, 10); Kurt Elling: vocals: (3, 6, 10).