By Michael J. West | Published May 2019
Laurence Hobgood—one of the most underrated pianists in the business—does some superb work on tesseterra. So does his trio (with bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jared Schonig). But they wrap it all in string quartet arrangements so florid that they actually diminish the should-be magic at the music’s heart.
Each arrangement here is serious, ambitious and intelligently crafted stuff. And the problem is not the standard cliché complaint that strings albums drown improvisers in schmaltz. The problem is that their ambition and the complexity of the arrangements is unnecessary for the “new standards” Hobgood presents. Is Lennon-McCartney’s “Blackbird” really uplifted by three introductory minutes of a darting pizzicato violin and latticework? Does the self-consciously “down home” setting add new dimensions to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”? The strings’ role on “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” apparently is to turn it into a wedding recessional; their swinging call-and-response with Hobgood is too cute by half, and since the quartet’s responses are in precise harmony, there’s obviously no spontaneity.
This goes on for an exhausting 74 minutes, 12 of which are allotted solely to the opening of “Wichita Lineman.” That one has an intro even longer than “Blackbird,” and while Hobgood’s playing latter on in the song is tender and impeccably fingered, part of its pleasure is of the thank-God-you’re-finally-here variety. It’s a shame, because this and the trio interplay—as elsewhere—in the song’s final third truly are worthy. tesseterra has a solid framework; the upholstery is just too much.
tesseterra: Wichita Lineman; Blackbird; Georgia On My Mind; Suite: Judy Blue Eyes; We Shall Overcome; Waltz In C# Sharp Minor Op. 64, No. 2; All Of You; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. (73:42)
Personnel: Laurence Hobgood, piano; Matt Clohesy, bass; Jared Schonig, drums; Kip Jones, violin; Corin Lee, violin; Ralph Farris, viola; Dorothy Lawson, cello.