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Craig Hartley - 2013 - "Books on Tape Vol. 1"

(66:08, ‘Craig Hartley’)


1.  Dial 411 4:51
2.  My Foolish Heart 6:41
3.  Books on Tape 8:44
4.  Why Not 6:10
5.  K2? 8:05
6.  I Should Love You More 4:31
7.  Just For Me 11:08
8.  Froghollow 7:56
9.  Just For Me 8:02


Craig Hartley – piano 
Carlo De Rosa – bass 
Henry Cole – drums 
Fabio Morgera – trumpet 
Dida Pelled – vocals 

Prolusion. US composer and musician Craig HARTLEY might be described as a fairly renowned artist for those in the know, with plenty of live performances inside and outside of the USA under his belt, active as a jazz musician, soundtrack composer and rock musician. "Books on Tape Vol. 1" is his debut album, and was self released in 2013.

Analysis. When you spend substantial parts of your spare time writing about music, one of the challenges you frequently encounter is to write about music you really don't know too much about. It may be artists where you won't find too much information about the artist itself, a production with a specific kind of music you can't place within a ready context, or just that you suddenly face the task of writing about music you are unfamiliar with from the get go. The latter is the case for me here, my knowledge about jazz is fairly minimal, so those with a firm interest in this style of music will have to excuse my lack of knowledge here. If I should place this album within a context, it would be traditional jazz, I guess. Or to put it that way: whenever I have attended a jazz concert, I have been to a few, the music have been of a kind fairly similar to the music on this production. One band leader whose instrument has a fairly dominant role, where partially improvised sounding movements and soloing are a fairly important part of the proceedings, while the rest of the band primarily backs him of her up but with brief spots set up also for the other instrumentalists to showcase their capabilities by way of a soloing run. With a firm basis on smooth, flowing melodies with a distinct absence of atonal effects or other details of a more challenging nature. Which pretty much is how you can describe this CD as regarded in a superficial manner. When getting into the details, there are a few more of those that warrant a mention. Hartley's a skilled performer for instance, and to my ears it would appear that one of his major strengths as a performer is in the way he utilizes the tangents, from soft touches of the tangents producing a smooth tone with careful resonances to a more forceful delivery producing a sharper, subtly more dramatic impact, and the manner in which Hartley uses the latter with care to maintain tension and interest as themes are played out and repeated with subtle variations is a defining feature here, as I understand this album and this type of music. The least interesting compositions to my ears are the two more laid back tunes at hand, the cover of My Foolish Heart and the one song containing vocals, I Should Love You More. Both of them are fairly laid back and relaxed in expression, and of a kind that gave me instant associations to a certain kind of Hollywood movie with scenes shot in more or less seedy nightclubs with a jazz act playing on stage. It's not that the tracks on this disc are inferior in any manner, I might add, it's just that I have a hard time being fascinated by that particular type of music. Opening number Dial 411, on the other hand, does stand out due to its fairly dramatic scope, a high tempo affair that probably showcases a high degree of technical prowess and otherwise comes with a lot of automatic nerve and tension due to the combined dynamics of high tempo and wandering piano motifs. The sparse and distinctly subservient role of the bass and drums on this one also giving it a mood and atmosphere fairly unique on this production. Otherwise I found the composition Why Not to be of particular interest. Partially due to the addition of a compelling, frail trumpet to the arrangement on this one, but also because this, at least to my ears, is the most distinct band-oriented composition, where the musicians on a few occasions highlight just how interwoven the different instruments are in this specific performance. Otherwise this is a charming and elegant production, where Hartley's skilled piano performance manages to maintain a fair degree of nerve and tension also when the compositions are fairly elongated in scope without any dramatic developments or shifts that come to his aid. I should also add that the music as such is relaxing, and while I'm not a jazz enthusiast as such, this is a CD I probably will put on now and then when I have a need to wind down.

Conclusion. To my ears, Craig Hartley's debut album "Books on Tape Vol. 1" should be sorted somewhere under a traditional jazz category, and if there is a subgenre there somewhere for piano based, instrumental jazz with improvisational qualities and a focus on elegant, harmony based melodies and a performer that appears to focus on touch and intensity rather than pace and technical showmanship, this CD belongs in that very department, and warrants an inspection by those with a special interest in music of that specific kind. As described by someone who, as previously mentioned, have a limited knowledge, experience and probably also a limited understanding of jazz as a stylistic expression.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: February 2, 2014
The Rating Room

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