In Chicago jazz circles, we don’t give annual awards for the best new band; if we did, though, Laurence Hobgood’s quintet would have my vote. These guys are a knockout, from the leader’s compositions to the kick of the rhythm section to the charged solos. It’s what a jazz band is supposed to sound like. A couple minutes of Hobgood’s energetic and crystalline piano work should be enough to convince you that he’s among the most exciting players in a city full of fine pianists; nonetheless, he shares the solo space evenly, which is pretty smart when you have so many terrific players on hand. The sidemen–saxophonist Jim Gallaretto, guitarist John Moulder, bassist Dan Anderson, drummer Jeff Stitley–have more than raw ability going for them: they offer widely varying approaches to improvisation, and this eclecticism lights up the stage. (Indeed, I can hardly think of a local band with five such strong and distinctive soloists. Even when they all solo on one tune you don’t complain, because it’s almost like hearing five different tunes.) Hobgood ties it all together with an equally variegated book of his own compositions–witty, driving, richly textured, and highly original–that sparks the band’s freshness. Hobgood told me that after a few rehearsals, he found himself walking around with a big smile on his face and thinking to himself, “I’ve got a band!” After hearing them once, I know how he must have felt. Saturday, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Al Kawano.