Saturday, November 5, 2016

Craig Hartley's Books on Tape Vol.2--Standard Edition on CD

I'm not sure if this is an "ask and ye shall receive" period or a "be careful what you ask for" period, but I'm suddenly buried in a pile of contemporary jazz CDs that are all, to one degree or another, recorded and performed beautifully. A company called Jazz Promo Services, as I might've mentioned, has opened the flood gates and my mailbox has been getting stuffed with new releases. Perhaps this was in response to assertions during my reviews of Todd Hunter and Jane Ira Bloom that it had been years since I heard a contemporary jazz release that truly moved me in the same way as some of the classic reissues I've been purchasing over the last couple of years. Someone over at JPS is determined to prove me wrong.

Some of these releases seem, well, modest. I don't mean that in a bad way, but in a way that suggests that there are a lot of jazz musicians still out there in 2016, trying to get noticed and waiting on that big break. A glass-half-empty kind of guy might posit that a big break in today's jazz scene might be an oxymoron considering the alleged waning interest in jazz in this country. But from the looks of some of these titles there are a lot of jazz musicians still out there hustling, playing a couple of hundred gigs per years, traveling from town to town and earning enough just money to get by just like they did fifty or sixty years ago.

I think about those hard-working, dedicated performers when I listen to Craig Hartley's new CD Books on Tape Vol.2--Standard Edition. I don't know this supremely talented jazz pianist, nor do I know bass player Carlo De Rosa or drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons. From the looks of the CD cover and packaging, I'd say these guys scrimped and saved to put out this CD. It's as simple as it gets, jam econo for the jazz set, but stick the CD in your player and hold on tight--the sound quality is nothing short of magnificent. This jazz trio recording is crisp and vibrant, with virtuoso performances that strongly remind me of Jane Ira Gross' Early Americans or even the Jacques Loussier Trio's classic recordings through the '60s and '70s.

Books on Tape Vol.2 is obviously a follow-up album. Vol. 1, which I obviously have not heard, contained original compositions from Hartley. Vol. 2 is mostly standard tunes, hence the subtitle. That means you get Hartley's takes on such tunes as Mood Indigo, a lively and thunderous Caravan and Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz. But you also get a lovely, serene version of Paul McCartney's Junk, as well as a couple of hybrid tunes that mix Bach and Miles Davis (hence the Loussier reference) and even John Lennon and Bill Evans. Hartley's fluid, romantic runs through the keys are perfectly suited for the Evans homage, by the way.

After quick perfunctory listens through this ever-growing pile of jazz CDs in my living room, Books on Tape Vol. 2 was the immediate stand-out in both sonics and performances. Produced by Hartley, recorded at Bunker Studio in Brooklyn and mastered by Greg DiCrosta, this is stunning jazz recording from a trio of guys I've never heard before. That goes to show that modern jazz is alive and well, and that more people--me included--should be paying attention.

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