Union | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The members of Union have accrued a fair amount of name recognition in other settings--pianist Laurence Hobgood as Kurt Elling's musical director, bassist Brian Torff in frequent collaborations with George Shearing, and drummer Paul Wertico as a member of the Pat Metheny Group. So presumably they've chosen this anonymous handle to advertise their democratic approach: instead of leaving the task of leadership to the pianist, they attempt a three-way interplay that would've delighted Bill Evans (who tried it first). And that interplay is remarkable: on everything from delectable standards to balladic romances to free jazz Union sounds distinctly different from outfits its members have led under their own names. Nonetheless, the trio's second album, State of the Union (Naim), turns out to be a showcase for Hobgood's plenary gifts, alongside strong solos and equally noteworthy background work from Torff and Wertico. But the pianist doesn't grab center stage so much as the others nudge him toward it, supporting him every inch of the way. On Richard Rodgers's "How About You," Hobgood's ear-opening steeplechase of a solo creates almost as much excitement with Wertico's fills and builds as with its own muscular melodies; on "Beyond Words" his startlingly sophisticated harmonies coalesce around Torff's unerring tonal center. And with Wertico's taste for hard beats balancing and complementing Hobgood's strong classical background, the trio can stretch its range pretty far without wearing it thin. This weekend's performances mark the release of State of the Union. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Sunday, 7 PM, Union Church of Hinsdale, 137 S. Garfield, Hinsdale; 630-323-4303. NEIL TESSER

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