LAURENCE HOBGOOD & BOB MINTZER
The most exciting pianist in Chicago today, Laurence Hobgood, doesn't have much time to lead his own bands these days. He's too busy with the cooperative trio Union, which has released two well-received discs on Naim, and with singer Kurt Elling, whose four Grammy-nominated albums he's played on, arranged, and coproduced. But though both these projects deserve all the accolades they've garnered, neither provides a real outlet for his ingeniously structured, harmonically adventurous compositions, and neither features a front-line instrumentalist who can fully engage the steely intellect and brimming intensity of his improvising. This weekend's reunion of Hobgood and New York saxist Bob Mintzer, who've worked together in Chicago on two previous occasions, should do both. One of several brainy, brawny tenor players molded by the speedway improvising of Michael Brecker in the 70s and 80s, Mintzer distinguished himself by deemphasizing the convolutions of that school in favor of its funky, lyrical side--an approach that has served him well as the front man for the Yellowjackets, a once-vapid fusion band that's gained musical integrity and well-earned respect in the decade since he joined. Mintzer doesn't take the encyclopedic approach to the sax that Hobgood does to his instrument, but like the pianist, he has speed-of-light reflexes and a deep feeling for melody, which he combines in solos that gleam with meticulous craftsmanship as they race by the ear. Mintzer has one other thing in common with Hobgood: between the Yellowjackets and his other main avenue of expression, the Bob Mintzer Big Band, he rarely gets the opportunity to perform in the intimate setting of a straight-ahead quartet. I'd expect this particular lineup, which features Kelly Sill on bass and frequent Hobgood collaborator Paul Wertico on drums, to elicit some of his strongest playing in years. Friday, January 5, 9 PM, and Saturday, January 6, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.