The nylon string guitar isn’t typically associated with jazz and composer Bill McCormick isn’t a household name but after hearing this album you’ll ponder both of these things and ask yourself…why not?? Nylon string guitarist Ken Hatfield is stunning across all eight tracks here and this is one of the most consistently engaging records I’ve heard all year.
The album kicks off with a bouncy burner in three called “The Spirit Of Soul.” Drummer Dan Weiss lays down a strong groove and Hatfield demonstrates his strong technique, clean sound and impeccable taste during his solo. Jim Clouse gets plenty of solo space on soprano saxophone here and he doesn’t disappoint. Shades of Brazil come through on “Memories of a Dream,” as Clouse’s soprano saxophone seduces you. Hatfield’s soloing here takes on more romantic sentiments and percussionist Steve Kroon helps to add color to the mix with all sorts of percussion (i.e. cowbell, shaker, etc.). The snappy swing feel briefly shifts to a straighter Latin feel on “I’m Movin’ to Cool Breeze City.” Hans Glawischnig contributes a strong solo to this track and the band trades solos with Kroon and Weiss during this fun four-minute frolic. Kroon pulls out all the stops on “Mystery Ship,” providing some spooky percussion underpinnings to this haunting piece. At less than two-minutes, this serves as more of a transition than a full-fledged composition. While the title track begins with some shimmering music making, things settle into a slow samba-influenced groove and Hatfield, Glawischnig and Clouse sound terrific as they trade eight measure solos over the seemingly effortless rhythmic undercurrent. When these three musicians meet at the end of the track, with Clouse providing the haunting melody, Hatfield helping with arpeggiated lines and Glawischnig bowing beneath, it’s pure magic.
The brilliance and sway of Brazil are back on “The Persistence Of Saudade.” Kroon’s percussion work helps to bring an authentic sound and feel to this piece and Glawischnig is terrific in both of his roles, as soloist and anchor for the rhythm section. Hatfield’s soloing is understated but undeniably enjoyable here and Clouse takes off into some fun flights toward the end of this track. “Pastorale” is a two-minute solo guitar piece that owes as much to the classical nature of Hatfield’s instrument as it does to jazz. Hatfield, and almost every guitarist in jazz over the past four or five decades, was surely influenced by Wes Montgomery and the closing track on the album (“El Camino Wes”) pays tribute to the guitar legend. While this track is certainly in the spirit of Montgomery, Hatfield avoids copying and manages to honor him without plagiarizing his soloing ideas. While Hatfield could have fit more than twice as much music on this album (the CD clocks in at about thirty-six minutes) he chose to say only what needed to be said and this is one of the many strengths of this album. Great performances should leave you wanting more and this CD exemplifies this ideal!
Even listeners familiar with Ken Hatfield, the exceptionally gifted nylon-string guitarist, may well find this session a revelation in more ways than one. Granted, the album’s eight compositions, all written by Bill McCormick, provide a showcase for the skills Hatfield has displayed on previous recordings: the precise touch, the nimble phrasing, the ease with which he can make a Brazilian melody wax lyrical or seductive.
But thanks to McCormick’s consistently appealing, yet wide ranging contributions – and Hatfield’s inventive arrangements, “To Be Continued...” is as revealing as as it is expansive. A delightful case in point is “El Camino Wes.” Turns out, McCormick first encountered Hatfield in the early 70’s, back when Hatfield was toting around an archtop guitar and in the thrall to the genius of Wes Montgomery. It’s real treat to hear Hatfield in this McCormick-fashioned tribute to Montgomery, playing popping single note choruses contributing to a soul-jazz groove.
Still, long before that performance rolls around – it serves as the album’s coda – Hatfield, McCormick, and a top shelf quartet prominently featuring soprano/tenor saxophonist Jim Clouse deliver the goods. Particularly enjoyable are the the album’s title track, a sinuous charmer, and “I’m Movin’ To Cool Breeze City”, a bop head brightened by Clouse’s luminous soprano… Implicit in its title is the promise that “To Be Continued...” will spawn a sequel. Here’s hoping it arrives sooner rather than later.
Bill McCormick’s current release, “To Be Continued...” features eight superbly crafted compositions brilliantly performed by guitarist extraordinaire, Ken Hatfield. The music on this album ranges from Bop to Brazilian and from Blues to Classical. Ken Hatfield could not have been a better choice to deliver this exceptional music. He is a true master of the nylon-string guitar, elegantly swinging throughout the recording. His intricate and adventurous soloing and tasteful comping holds the listeners interest on every track. Joining Hatfield are some of New York’s most sought after musicians, including a very supportive rhythm section consisting of Hans Glawischnig on bass, Steve Kroon on percussion, and Dan Weiss on drums. The guitarist is also strategically paired with Jim Clouse’s encouraging and innovative reed playing, causing Hatfield to really reach out in his solos.
The opening “The Spirit of Soul” features Clouse’s haunting soprano bringing to mind John Coltrane and Steve Lacy’s incendiary approach to the instrument. On “El Camino Wes” Hatfield pays homage to his hero without resorting to the typical Montgomery style clichés often used on similar dedications. “I’m Movin’ to Cool Breeze City” is a Bop fueled burner with pinpoint soloing throughout, while “Pastorale,” is a gentle, reflective solo piece featuring Hatfield’s lyrical, melodic playing. Another noteworthy aspect of this recording is that not only is the ensemble entirely acoustic, microphones were the only medium used to capture the sound. The result is an entirely acoustic recording. In an era where most albums of this nature feature musicians who are “plugged in,” using a myriad of electronic processing, this “mike only” approach is a refreshing alternative. Together Bill McCormick and Ken Hatfield have created an exceptional recording graced with interesting compositions and dazzling performances. “To Be Continued...” is highly recommended for all listeners interested in hearing truly, pure acoustic music.
Ken Hatfield’s “To Be Continued...” is notable for several reasons. For one thing, composer Bill McCormick, who had dropped from public awareness for much too long, is back by composing all of the music for Ken Hatfield’s new CD (which McCormick produced). For another, “To Be Continued...” offers the infrequent opportunity to jazz played on the nylon-string guitar, Hatfield’s instrument of choice. With a lower volume, unamplified and unaltered similar to the style of Brazilian guitarists, Hatfield’s technique creates a softer sound that encourages close listening, in contrast to the extroverted force of the electric guitar. In addition, “To Be Continued...” contains the results of McCormick’s and Hatfield’s decisions to assemble a highly professional group of experienced jazz musicians who obviously are comfortable performing with one another as they enjoy the music written especially for them.
While Hatfield doesn’t ignite the out-of-control fires that a steel guitar sometimes does, his work does smolder and then burn, as the first track, “The Spirit of Soul,” proves. Though McCormick’s piece starts with a four-bar seven-four introduction, it soon moves into minor blues in three that begins invitingly enough, particularly when Hatfield contributes his own technically astounding solo, which turns up the heat. Saxophonist (and sound engineer) Jim Clouse takes the cue and increases the intensity of the piece, aided in no small amount by the rhythm section and especially Steve Kroon’s percussion. Eventually, the entire group cooks at the outro with the repetition of the final four bars. The percussiveness of the quintet, cannily developed, suits that feel of Hatfield’s playing well for he does recall Latin guitarists with the clarity of his tone, as “Memories of a Dream” confirms with its intimations of “How Insensitive.”
But McCormick’s intentions were to develop a varied repertoire for Hatfield’s recording, and so “I’m Movin’ to Cool Breeze City” virtually percolates with joyous playing, bright and fun, as Clouse performs the swinging melody over blues changes. With a subtle tribute to Wes Montgomery, “El Camino Wes” reminds one of his influence while Hatfield makes the tune in his own direction, abetted as always by his exemplary rhythm section that heightens the piece’s infectiousness.
And then, so that the listener can appreciate the unembellished beauty of Hatfield’s ability to extract the essence of a song, he performs the relative short “Pastorale” solo and the equally brief “Mystery Ship,” performed as a duo. In a year of some exceptional guitar albums, such Lionel Loueke’s, Ken Hatfield’s “To Be Continued...” stands out too as a personalized statement arising from his own individualistic technique and the compositions of Bill McCormick for the CD.
Noted Connecticut-based jazz guitarist/composer Bill McCormick handed over a slew of new tunes to guitarist extraordinaire Ken Hatfield, who then created an album full of bright, satisfying music. Hatfield and friends – soprano saxman Jim Clouse, bassist Hans Glawisching, percussionist Steve Kroon and drummer Dan Weiss – do justice to McCormick’s melody-happy compositions through solid musicianship, uncannily empathetic ensemble playing and plenty of meaty solos in an all-acoustic setting. Hatfield not only performs incisive and well-thought-out solo fret work, he delivers this new jazz via a nylon-string guitar.
Although McCormick’s tunes and Hatfield’s guitar are the headliners, the combo shines, proving that an all-acoustic outfit isn’t bereft of power and energy. The give-and-take between Hatfield and his mates is spirited and egalitarian with plenty of swing to spare. Not just for jazz purists, “To Be Continued...” has enough melody and warmth to entice even the most jaded music fan.
...with a bunch of cats on board that any downtown fan would recognize, it’s a jazz guitar outing of a different stripe. Ah, yes, when a bunch of pros convene to do it their way...
Composer and publisher Bill McCormick has assembled four superb guitarists (and on certain tracks, one percussionist, Steve Kroon) to perform thirteen different original compositions on this CD, “MUSIC FOR GUITAR.” The well-crafted and thoughtful compositions that appear on this CD (also) appear in print among the eleven books and folios published by mPub... This CD is an eminently listenable CD that features solo and duo performances... “A Church Named The Blues” is very much what the name states – add in McCormick’s own clever twists to make it more than a simple straight blues... (Ken Hatfield) serves up a delightful rendition of “The Seacoast Drive,” a light and airy bossa-based tune, featuring percussionist Steve Kroon providing rhythmic accompaniment on bongos. The same duo offers another sweet performance on the slower but no less compelling McCormick composition “The Nights Get So Cool Here.”... This album is relatively short. But, it offers fine performances of unique original tunes by quality guitar players.
...Hatfield is among the four guitarists, and percussionist, assembled by composer Bill McCormick for his new disc “Music for Guitar,Vol.1,” a selection of pieces culled from his substantial portfolio. The songs are like a collection of snapshots (one of them, “Accompaniment Study-Suspended Fourths,” clocks in at a laconic 41 seconds), and while they’re short, they’re also quite effective.
“Night Dream/Summer/Into Trees” is played with tender contemplation by Craig Wagner. “The Nights Get So Cool Here,” a languid slice of Brazil, is breezily interpreted by Hatfield and features outstanding percussion from Steven Kroon. Jon Damian applies the proper humor to “I Play Rhythm,” McCormick’s riff on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” while Pete Smith expands on the same rhythmic theme with his bouncy “Riff Major/Riff Minor.”
Wagner plays “Blues 2050” with moody lyricism and touches it up with flamenco elements. “The Seacoast Drive” is another South American excursion rendered wonderfully by Hatfield and Kroon, especially the evocation of waves against the shore. Wagner plays with samba soul on another Latin standout, “Majestic World,” which features more outstanding variegated percussion by Kroon. Wagner also goes down to the Delta on “A Church Named The Blues,” a piece evoking the rhythm of going to services on a Sunday morn. The conciseness with which McCormick writes challenges the players to state their cases quickly and clearly, and this fine disc is proof of their eloquence.
“Music For Guitar” represents the audio realization of a baker’s dozen of Bill McCormick’s compositions published book and folio form by his own mPub Corporation. Ranging in length from 41 seconds to just under 3 1/2 minutes, guitarists Craig Wagner, Ken Hatfield, Jon Damian & Pete Smith along with percussionist Steve Kroon masterfully bring the printed page to life.
From the dark and angular “Blues 2050” played by Craig Wagner to the sexy Brazilian “The Seacoast Drive” performed by Ken Hatfield and Steven Kroon, “Music for Guitar” would make for an excellent addendum to the books that the tunes are derived from if it weren’t such a darn good CD on its own...
Photo Credit: Ted Megas, Megas Guitars, Portland, OR
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