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Laurence Hobgood, Brian Torff & Paul Wertico - "UNION"
Voted one of the Best 10 albums released in 1997! - Chicago Tribune & Chicago Sun-Times
"The three innovative and accomplished artists who titled this recording "Union" do not use the term lightly. Each of the ensemble tracks on this sublime disc seamlessly interweaves the work of pianist Laurence Hobgood, bassist Brian Torff and drummer Paul Wertico. Hobgood's pianism - with its shimmering arpeggios, advanced harmonies and pervasively singing tone - is at the center of the music-making. But Torff's remarkably inventive bass playing and Wertico's stylistically far-reaching drum work bring context and tension to Hobgood's ravishing pianism. Throughout, the musical language is fresh, the improvisations unpredictable, the very sound of the recording vivid and palpable. Without doubt one of the best jazz recordings of the year."
"Recorded in a church, this is a powerfully subdued effort by pianist Hobgood, bassist Torff and drummer Wertico. But don't let the Mr. Hyde tone here fool you. In performance, the trio emulates Dr. Jekyll by going for the throat."
"This piano trio gets a unique sound by stretching things beyond customary limits via timbre, dynamics, voicings, but never bend basic harmonic or rhythmic rules to speak of. Daring and conservative at once, and quite creative in their chosen range. Hobgood is as Bleyful as Evansesque, with an ear for unexpected harmonic tension. These three work amazingly well together for a studio combination, and the choice of material is excellent."
"Maybe this is what we should be considering "contemporary jazz." No, not some instrumental pop/R&B pablum...not at all. The selections presented here have a fresh, spontaneous approach both to jazz standards and group originals, all of which are filled with colorful sounds, individual improvisation, and magical group chemistry that would be welcome (and needed) on more records. Paul Wertico flat out nails every tune's mood and groove, and he also provides a wonderful personality to his territory in the musical landscape. There's quite a variety to choose from here: swinging, driving, and straight-ahead tunes (with some bombastic "fours") like "Not Enough Of Too Much"; delicate, touching brush work on classic ballads like "My One And Only Love" and "Blue In Green"; and even some unique Latin flavorings on "The Very Thought Of You" and "I'm Glad There Is You." There are completely improvised gems here as well. "Laurel House" has Mr. Wertico almost exclusively playing dark, earthy, thick cymbals (a whisper of a brushed snare is the only exception), while "Free Lunch" sees him creating "sheets of sound" on more surfaces than you would expect from a drumset. "Inflections" is an improvised drum solo featuring hands, brushes, voice, Krupa-esque swing, out-of-time tom flourishes - and one heck of a great, witty ending. UNION closes with Duke Ellington's "What Am I Here For," which at first has you thinking the trio has suddenly gone "lounge" on us. But the tongue is firmly in cheek, for by the end they once again provide playful interplay through their harmony, solos, and - quite wonderfully - some rhythmic manipulations that are just plain fun. At its best, traditional jazz is smart, improvisational, and full of group chemistry. UNION proves contemporary jazz can have those qualities, too." Four stars!
The Jazz Rag (England)
"The title is not only a reference to Union Church, Hinsdale, Illinois, where the recording was made, but also to the group, not so much a piano trio as a union of three equal parts: all three musicians served as producers of the album, wrote the liner notes together and claim joint credit on two improvised originals. The opening two tracks, the Ellington/Strayhorn "Star Crossed Lovers" and Ray Noble's "The Very Thought Of You", both delivered with conscious delicacy, suggests a rather cerebral album, perhaps a bit low on excitement, but the next three tracks reveal the versatility of the Hobgood/Torff/Wertico trio. Brian Torff's prodigious solo on "Amazing Grace" (Paul Wertico has his virtuoso drum feature later) is followed by a percussive trio treatment of "Not Enough Of Too Much" (an interesting melody by Guido Sinclair that is distant kin to "Too Close For Comfort") and a suitably soaring "My One And Only Love". Later the meditative mood is broken by a swinging version of Milt Jackson's "Late Late Blues" and a closing "What Am I Here For?" that is fun for all. Overall, a very educated, civilised piece of jazz-making."
Green Mountain Jazz Messenger
"This is a trio album rather than a piano players album. I would call this group the "Masters of the Ballad" because their work in this genre is tremendous: sensual, evocative, interesting and creative. The group also has a fun sense of exploration and playfulness as demonstrated by their rendition of "What Am I Here For," the programming of two free tunes and a solo spot for each member. They play ballads so convincingly and soulfully that they have programmed more than half of the disk with slow, rapturous music. This is wonderful for those wanting to revel in this luxurious atmosphere. But it reminds me of Donald Byrd insisting to me that this music (jazz) is, by nature intense, be it ballad or bop; and I therefore always have my New Age Crap Detector sensitized. This disc did NOT activate my detector. "Star Crossed Lovers" is absolutely sumptuous. From Hobgood's first chord we appreciate the delicacy of his playing, his unusual voicings. Then, the sympathetic, exquisite accompaniment offered by Torff and Wertico. Then the realization of the perfect balance and lovely recording quality. Why don't more people play this tune? This vibe continues, but the intensity is driven up a notch with "The Very Thought of You." Here we have a sustained groove which permeates the entire song. It reminds me of Gabor Szabo's extended excursions. Torff and Wertico know how to set up a groove upon which Hobgood can ride. The feel hardly changes as it provides a minimilistic cushion, James Brown knew about that, too! The one tune where the group demonstrates that they can swing hard is a fine original composition by their friend, Guido Sinclair. The unusual structure of "Not Enough of Too Much" provides fertile ground for soloing and terminates in a playful set of exchanging fours. Here, they successfully use a clever technique, in which each member of the group plays his "four" unaccompanied. Wertico plays exceptionally well throughout. Hobgood, Wertico and Torff sail through two other lesser known standards, which, like "Star Crossed Lovers" leaves the listener thinking "why don't you hear this tune more often?" Tommy Dorsey's "I'm Glad There is You" is interpreted rather slowly, but maintains a rich atmosphere. Perhaps the reason for this album's success is that Wertico maintains grooves throughout entire songs. He is not the type of drummer who changes the feel in every section. With him and Torff supplying a locked-in feeling they create compositional entities rather than ditties. "What Am I Here For," another of Ellington's great, lesser known creations is given a slow but swinging interpretation which is enhanced by Wertico and sometimes Torff slowing down for a portion of a bar - a bizarre but effective arranging effect. "Union" is a significant trio statement: it contains elements which push the envelope of the traditional piano trio. The musicianship is irreproachable, there is a strong feeling of good chemistry, and the arranging ideas are both creative and tasteful. They burn, in fact, they burn well - but they burn slowly."
Audiophile Club Of Athens
"Paul Wertico and Laurence Hobgood met in 1991. Paul and Brian Torff met in 95. The Trio played their first concert at Union Church in Hinsdale IL in Nov 95. Recording engineer Ken Christianson began recording performances 20 years ago. He uses a Nagra 4S 2-track tape recorder and one stereo pair of AKG 414 microphones which positioned correctly, capture the ambient sound of a performance, which are lost in the standard, close-mic-ing format used in recording studios. This is a jazz record of mostly first takes without any overdubbing. It allows the listener to hear subtleties of both individual and group dynamics and color. I would describe this record in one word - relaxing. This has something to do with the Union Church itself which has a beautiful, vaulted sanctuary. The light streaming through the stained glass windows and the quiet peaceful aura of the room, combined to evoke a very simple, essential atmosphere that proved especially conductive to this type of recording. My favorite tunes: "Star Crossed Lovers", "The Very Thought Of You", "My One And Only Love", "Wonderous Love", "I Am Glad There Is You", "The Late Late Blues", "What Am I Here For" and the drums solo "Inflections". Tunes:***** Performance:***** Recording:*****
"One of the best jazz trio recordings of this or any other year, "Union" lives up to its name, with each of these artists contributing equally to the uniquely translucent quality of the ensemble's sound. Considering that this was the first release by this trio, it represents one of the most promising beginnings of 1997. Should Hobgood, Torff and Wertico continue to produce music as harmonically and coloristically individual as this, the prospects for their future work are tantalizing."