Although Laurence Hobgood has spent most of the past decade playing behind Kurt Elling, few consider the ferociously virtuosic pianist just a sideman. Not only has his influence shaped Elling's arrangements, but his solos get the spotlight at least once in every set: rhapsodic and adventurous, they often draw inspiration from 19th-century classical music, occupying a space quite apart from the rest of the onstage proceedings. Even in a more constrained context--swinging the rhythm section through a standard, for instance--Hobgood shines as a mainstream improviser of uncommon ingenuity. Night after night and note for note, there really is no better jazz pianist working in America today. That'll sound like a bold claim, I suppose, to those who haven't had a chance to appreciate his relentless originality and boundless technique for themselves, but you can put it to the test during the Monday-night residency Hobgood's trio plays through the end of October at Pete Miller's in Evanston. Not surprisingly, the rest of the trio consists of his rhythm mates from the Elling group, bassist Rob Amster and drummer Frank Parker. Hobgood and Amster have established an impressive bond during nine years of regular Green Mill appearances and international tours with Elling, and Parker, in his four years with the band, has tastefully woven his crisp, spare percussion into their interplay. The residency also unofficially celebrates the release of the trio's new CD, Prayer for the Enemy, forthcoming on the Naim label. Free. Mondays and Friday, September 17, 8:30 PM, Pete Miller's Steakhouse, 1557 Sherman, Evanston; 847-328-0399.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.