Craig Hartley Trio Appearing at Somethin' Jazz Club

Craig Hartley Trio Appearing at Somethin' Jazz Club (212 E. 52nd St. 3Fl. (btw/ 2nd & 3rd Ave.) New York, NY 10022), Sat., Mar. 8th 9 pm, Featuring
Craig Hartley - Piano, Carlo De Rosa - Bass, Jeremy "Bean" Clemons - Drums

It is often said that the finest Jazz artists are the ones with great stories to tell through their music. With that in mind, Craig Hartley's debut recording Books On Tape (on Skidoo Records) is most aptly named, as the composer/pianist definitely has great stories to tell. This is not surprising, as Craig has come up in the old-school tradition, both in his formal and bandstand education. Fortunate to study academically under from-the-trenches educators like Jackie McLean, Joe Chambers, Garry Dial and Andy Laverne, and on the bandstand with diverse artists like Anthony Braxton, Eddie Henderson, Mario Pavone, Steve Davis and Claudio Roditi, Hartley is a model of what the invaluable and sadly disappearing tradition of apprenticeship can produce.

Books On Tape was a long time in coming forth, as Craig passed on the temptation of recording too early just to get something into the marketplace, and instead waited to the "ripe" age of 31 to craft a masterful album that is a truly cohesive and mature statement of a remarkable artist's musical vision. But as an authentic 21st Century emerging artist, Hartley's viewpoint has been further shaped from a wide array of musical experiences - not only in a variety of Jazz styles, but also in rock, classical, electronic and experimental/avant-garde genres. All of those elements, honed to fine substance in prominent Jazz and rock venues in the U.S. to festivals spanning from Italy to Japan, has gone into conceiving and creating Books On Tape.

Accompanied by bassist Carlo De Rosa and drummer Henry Cole whose ongoing collaborations with Craig produce a deep empathy and exemplary interplay the trio is further enhanced on two pieces by trumpeter Fabio Morgera and on another by vocalist Dida Pelled.

The nine compositions (eight Hartley originals and one standard) offer exploratory territory for a richly varied range of moods, from arrestingly innovative to the classic essence of the Jazz piano trio tradition, without ever sacrificing rich lyricism or rhythmic dynamism. But regardless of the geography, the music is always within a singular context of one man's artistic expression. While Hartley is a superb composer and a virtuoso pianist, the ability to retain one's own vision within a variety of means is another form of virtuosity.

The CD opens with Dial 411 a most forthright and striking dedication to Garry Dial that also calls to mind the music of the profound composer/pianist Herbie Nichols breathtakingly explosive, musically complex and unflinchingly urgent. Another homage is offered to two of Craig's bandstand-mentors, Anthony Braxton and Mario Pavone, with Why Not. Brilliantly arranged with deliciously suspended rhythms and built on a powerful bass vamp, the piece is highlighted by an outstanding harmon-muted trumpet solo by Morgera and a remarkable angular piano solo.

A far different source of "tribute" is paid in K2? named for a coffeehouse Craig frequented as a student where he enjoyed observing a wide variety of individuals. Stories within the story are portrayed here in an eclectic, episodic series of "tales" told through propulsive chords juxtaposed with playful gentility and rolling single note cascades, ranging from whimsical observations to intense dramas. A vibrant bass solo and stunning drums/piano interplay add to the fascinating narrative.

The practice rooms at Yale where Craig would play for hours surrounded by other young artists pursuing all forms of the Muse is the inspiration for the title piece Books On Tape. Complex, but highly lyrical, the piece is chord-driven and vividly punctuated with emphatic short single note runs entwined with marvelously interconnected bass and drum play, further graced by an excellent upper-register bass solo.

Hartley clearly adheres to Tadd Dameron's belief that beauty is an essential quality of music, and the focus on beauty is front and center on three pieces, starting with the Victor Young/Ned Washington classic My Foolish Heart. Opening with somewhat angular, but lushly romantic solo piano, the piece moves into an easily swinging 4/4 development, with nimbly walking bass and subtly perfect drums.

Craig's exceptional solo, sometimes hinting at stride, features sparsely syncopated single notes erupting into gentle cascades and then sets a delightful chordal cushion for Carlo's short solo. Craig's own take on the Great American Songbook style produced I Should Love You More, a beautiful straightforward ballad offered with delicate emotional loveliness by Dida Pelled who caresses each of Craig's lyrics with heartfelt sincerity.

Froghollow was inspired by Craig's memories of his time at Hartt College in Hartford where he enjoyed the privilege of the immortal Jackie McLean's mentorship and played for years with another of Jackie's progeny, trombonist Steve Davis, in the Hartford neighborhood of the piece's title. A loving reminiscence, the story sweetly unfolds in gentle swing and is buoyed on delectably restrained dynamics of the bass and drums.

There are two versions of Hartley's Just For Me, which incorporates musical elements from Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G Major. The first version is an extended foray that opens and closes with a most enticing rubato solo piano that touches nicely on the Bach inspiration. Sandwiched in between is a deeply grooved jaunty exploration that continues to grow in excitement as the narrative ensues, fully developing in its rhythmic thrust and solo expression by piano and bass. The second version is for quartet minus the solo piano bookends and kicking in right in the belly of the swing mode. It features an impressive solo by trumpeter Morgera (this time unmuted) - warm, fluid and mellifluous, and another splendid piano solo by Hartley, closing out this extraordinary album in a most enjoyable fashion.

Not enough can be said to properly praise the amazing rapport and support offered by Carlo De Rosa and Henry Cole throughout this album. One can only look forward with great enthusiasm to Craig Hartley's next collection of stories.

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