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Craig Hartley: Books On Tape, Vol. 1

Dan Bilawsky By

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The work of any artist is typically the summation of their life experiences to a certain point, but many aren't aware of how or when these experiences seep(ed) into their art; pianist Craig Hartley just happens to have great awareness and a more confessional approach than most, as he lets specific occurrences, influences, events and individuals filter directly into his creative process for all to observe. On his debut, Books On Tape, Vol. 1, Hartley pays tribute to the people, places, and pieces that have contributed to his artistry. He honors his mentors, memories and musical influences by tapping directly into his very soul.

Hartley delivers nine tracks—eight originals and a sterling take on "My Foolish Heart"— with the help of his trio mates; drummer Henry Cole, best known for his work with saxophonist Miguel Zenon, and bassist Carlo De Rosa round out this well-matched triangular outfit, alternately turning, churning or burning in tandem with Hartley.

The album begins with "Dial 411," a breakneck, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that honors Gary Dial, one of Hartley's teachers. Things settle into a calmer zone with "My Foolish Heart," which benefits greatly from his nuanced introduction, and the mood shifts from haunting to hopeful on the title track, a musical reminiscence about time spent sneaking into practice rooms at Yale University. The twisted "Why Not," which features a guest shot from trumpeter Fabio Morgera, is a nod to two of Hartley's on-the- bandstand mentors—composer/bassist Mario Pavone and conceptualist/composer/multi-reedist Anthony Braxton—and "K2?" recalls voyeuristic days spent in a coffee shop of the same name.

The second half of the album has Hartley taking a stab at writing a standard-esque tune, with guest vocalist Dida Pelled's stretched-like-taffy lines drawing focus ("I Should Love You More"), and borrowing from J.S. Bach's "French Suite No. 5 in G Major" ("Just For Me"). Hartley also tips his cap to saxophonist Jackie McLean and trombonist Steve Davis ("Froghollow") and takes a second, livelier stab at his Bach-derived piece, with Morgera in play this time.

Books On Tape, Vol. 1 would be an engaging listen with or without the stories attached to the music, but the stories add volumes to the experience; they allow those on the receiving end to not only hear the music, but to see it as well, providing a multi-sensory trip into the musical mind of pianist Craig Hartley.

Track Listing: Dial 411; My Foolish Heart; Books On Tape; Why Not; K2?; I Should Love You More; Just For Me; Froghollow; Just For Me (4et).

Personnel: Craig Hartley: piano; Carlo De Rosa: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Fabio Morgera: trumpet (4, 9); Dida Pelled: vocals (6).

Title: Books On Tape, Vol. 1 | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced

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