Kurt Elling's long-time pianist, Laurence Hobgood, is no stranger to leading a recording session. He has released four previous recordings on Naim Jazz in the last 10 years. He is a durable pianist, a bit of a cross between Red Garland and George Winston, with a smidge of Bill Evans thrown in for seasoning. On When the Heart Dances, Hobgood duets with bassist Charlie Haden and is joined by Elling on three of the eleven selections.
The Doris Day ditty "Que Sera Sera" gets Hobgood's attention and is turned into a deep improvisation where the melody is almost nowhere to be found, like Charlie Parker's famous "Embraceable You." Haden's bass is unadorned, notes chosen and played impeccably. Each note Haden plays carries the DNA of jazz from Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961) to Quartet West. Haden is beyond flash; he is about distillation of tone and ideas.
Hobgood shows his entire hand on the solo original "Sanctuary." Here, instead of improvising from a standard or jazz composition, Hobgood creates an American palette that is a cross between piano gospel and New Age. Elements of these are present in all pieces but are fully realized here. The Elling recitals"First Song," "Stairway to the Stars" and "Daydream"receive a subdued treatment from Elling, who sings them straight with his deep, resonant voice. There is little fault with this quirky, beautiful recording that is delightfully off the beaten path.
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.
Laurence Hobgood: piano; Charlie Haden: double-bass; Kurt Elling: vocals.